Nicolas Sarkozy under attack after EU president proposal
Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of making a power grab to install himself as president of the European Union, a post that no longer exists after the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty in June.
25 Oct 2008
The French president, who holds the EU's rotating six month presidency until the end of December, has dominated the international stage following the Russian invasion of Georgia in August and the global financial crisis in recent weeks.
But he has dismayed Brussels diplomats and angered the Czech Republic, which takes over the EU presidency in January, by suggesting that countries belonging to the euro, with an invitation extended to Britain, should form an emergency "economic government" with President Sarkozy at its head.
"What is important is that the impetus, the energy of the French EU presidency remains," said Jean-Pierre Jouyet, French Europe minister, in defence of the plan.
"Do we want to return to business as usual? Or do we want to capitalise on the impetus?"
Alexandr Vondra, the Czech vice-prime minister, has criticised Mr Sarkozy's plans to extend his time at the head of the EU into next year.
"Any speculations on extension of the current presidency are groundless and unacceptable," he said.
"Nobody can take the presidency away from the Czech Republic. There are formal rules of the game which cannot be changed without the consent of everyone. No such new rules in the EU primary law have been approved."
The Lisbon Treaty created the post of the EU president, a job for which, until Ireland's referendum rejection in June, Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, was the front-runner.
One Brussels diplomat, from a small EU member state, said: "Mr Sarkozy is trying to become, by the back door, President of the EU. It also seems he wants to be President of France at the same time."
Mr Sarkozy has proposed regular summits of the EU's 15 euro-zone countries, meeting in a series of 2009 summits of heads and state and government, to deal with a looming recession and the economic fall out of the financial crisis.
Gordon Brown, the leader of the EU's second biggest ecoomy, would also be invited to attend the meetings, following his presence at the first ever Eurogroup summit in Paris on October 12.
Mr Vondra admitted that non-euro members, such as the Czech Republic, "will not be able to prevent" the summits but has attacked the move as divisive.
"It would not be a wise move but one which would divide EU rather then unify it. Bypass is a method used to cure an heart attack, but is not a suitable method for cooperation within the EU. The EU hopefully, does not suffer from heart attacks," he said.
The French plan also risks a serious rift with Germany because Berlin is a staunch defender of Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister and finance minister of Luxembourg, who currently chairs meetings of Eurogroup economic ministers.
A German government spokesman said: "The natural chairman of such a group would be the Luxembourg Prime Minister and Finance Minister Jean-Claude Juncker."
EU diplomats have suggested that Mr Sarkozy is trying to "soap the plank" for Mr Juncker by accusing Luxembourg's banking secrecy rules as constituting a tax haven.
"France is not a greater example of financial morality than Luxembourg," he said.