6th Aug 2021

All eyes on Sarkozy during first Brussels visit

French president Nicolas Sarkozy is to travel to Brussels today (23 May) to discuss France's vision for a new treaty for the bloc.

He will meet European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to present his ideas for a simplified document, almost two years after French and Dutch voters rejected the original constitution in referendums.

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While Europe did not feature heavily during Mr Sarkozy's presidential campaign, he made one key speech on the issue in Brussels last year in which he expanded on his proposal for a "mini-treaty" – with officials in Brussels keen to see if he is still promoting the same structure.

This would include key institutional reforms such as the extension of qualified majority voting to new areas, particularly in justice and home affairs, a foreign minister, a long-term presidency of the union and giving the union a legal personality.

One controversial element of his speech, which small countries are particularly keen to hear if he still favours, is letting the European Commission president choose his own team of commissioners.

They fear big countries will always get their way on appointing "their" commissioners while small countries will lose out.

At the moment, each of the 27 member states is entitled to one commissioner, while the rejected EU constitution seeks to limit the number of commissioners on the basis of equal rotation between member states.

Mr Sarkozy also promoted a "super-qualified" majority, a voting system which he said could be used for issues that are so sensitive that it would be "illusory" to think they would ever pass to a qualified majority voting system but need to be taken out of the unanimity-requirement bracket to make the EU function better.

He was referring specifically to tax issues, where currently every member state has a veto.

Warm reception?

Mr Sarkozy has already been to Berlin, his first official trip abroad directly after being sworn into office last week, where he presented his ideas to chancellor Angela Merkel.

But German media reported that the two did not see eye-to-eye on the topic.

"It really wasn't all smiles at Nicolas Sarkozy's first quick summit with Angela Merkel last week, in spite of what you saw on TV," said Der Spiegel.

The news magazine reported that the chancellor reacted coolly to his proposals to keep only the uncontroversial parts of the rejected EU constitution, instead favouring maintaining as much of the original text as possible.

For its part, the European Commission has publicly not entered the fray on what it wants in a new-look treaty saying only that it is "clear" that it cannot remain the same as it is now.

In the run-up to the 21-22 June summit, where the German EU presidency hopes to secure agreement on the bones of a new look treaty and a timetable for its ratification, the issue has started to gather political pace.

Italian leader Romano Prodi fired a shot across the bows of the nine countries that have not ratified the document in the European Parliament on Tuesday, suggesting a two-speed Europe will be the way forward if there is no substantial agreement next month.


Meanwhile, Turkey's future membership of the bloc is also bound to come up. Mr Sarkozy has repeatedly said he is against Ankara joining the EU, and that the bloc's borders should be defined.

Instead he is promoting a Mediterranean Union which Ankara fears he sees as an alternative to EU membership. The commission has tried to play down Mr Sarkozy's remarks saying that a decision on Turkey's EU bid should only be taken at the end of negotiations – set to go on for several years.

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