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Sarkozy's EU Debut

DW staff / AFP (jam)
June 21, 2007

France's President Sarkozy heads to summit talks on Thursday, eager to overcome two years of crisis caused by a French rejection of a constitution for the bloc. He could prove a valuable ally to German Chancelor Merkel.

Sarkozy will be closely watched at the summitImage: picture alliance/dpa

Leaders of the European Union's 27 member states hope the two-day summit in Brussels will clear the way for a simplified treaty to replace the doomed constitution, blocked by French and Dutch referendums in 2005.

It is Sarkozy's first European summit since he was elected president on May 6, promising a major diplomatic drive to break the EU's insitutional deadlock.

Sarkozy told lawmakers from his right-wing ruling party Wednesday he was expecting "two very difficult days starting tomorrow, since what is at stake is nothing less than pulling Europe out of immobility."

Diplomatic push

For the past month, Sarkozy has been engaged in telephone diplomacy and meetings from Warsaw to Madrid to boost the chances of an agreement this week.

Bildgalerie Frankreich Wahlen Präsidentschaftswahlen Jean-Marie Le Pen
Sarkozy consulted with far-right leader Le Pen, a political pariah to mostImage: AP

He has also held consultations with French political leaders of all stripes -- including with far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, normally a pariah in French politics -- before heading to the negotiating table in Brussels.

Germany, which holds the EU's presidency until the end of the month, hopes member states will adopt a text outlining the treaty's contents, and setting a mandate for an intergovernmental conference to hammer out a final version.

Sarkozy's spokesman said Tuesday the French president was determined "to support the German presidency as much as possible" and to "do everything to contribute to its success."

For Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation in Paris, Sarkozy has a key role to play.

"France is the main culprit for the current deadlock. After the French 'no', France stopped talking to the rest of Europe. There were no explanations for the 'no', nor counter-proposals," Giuliani said.

EU Verfassung Volksabstimmung in Frankreich Plakat
The French 'no' vote in 2005 shook the EUImage: AP

"From the moment he agrees to get things moving again, Sarkozy's voice counts."

"Sarkozy is freshly elected, he represents one of the main founding nations, he makes pro-European statements, gets his picture taken with the European flag. All this is being watched very closely by our partners."

Simplified document

Sarkozy backs the idea of a simplified treaty -- creating a permanent EU president and foreign minister and reforming the EU voting system -- that could be adopted without another referendum, allowing more time for complex questions such as European enlargement or defense policy.

According to Giuliani -- although the French president has been careful to respect German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mandate as EU president -- the German text being circulated in Brussels takes his key proposals into account.

Poland and Britain remain the key obstacles to clinching a deal. Poland, the biggest of 10 countries to join the EU in 2004, is resisting changes to the voting system that it says will penalize small and medium-sized countries.

Last week, Sarkozy became the latest in a steady flow of European leaders to visit Warsaw to try to convince its leaders not to stand in the way of a new, simplified treaty for the bloc.

EU Gipfel in Brüssel Plakat gegen Verfassung
The UK is not very enthusiastic about a big treaty eitherImage: AP

On Tuesday he agreed in telephone talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the principle of an "amending" treaty and warned against attempts to revive the moribund constitution itself.

He has reached a similar agreement with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, equally keen to avoid holding a second referendum.

But the French presidency has been cautious over the chances for a deal, a spokesman saying Tuesday that there were still "strong reservations" over the proposed treaty and that an agreement was far from assured.

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