Wednesday

11th Dec 2019

Reform of Europe will not lead to supra-nationality, Sarkozy says

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said the future of a successful European Union lies with inter-governmental co-operation rather than transferring more power to Brussels.

In a highly-anticipated speech in the southern French town of Toulon, Sarkozy on Thursday (1 December) indicated that while he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will work to change the EU treaties to ensure more budgetary discipline, Paris is not keen to let the European Commission get in on the act too much.

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  • The two will meet on Monday in Paris to discuss EU reform (Photo: diplomatie.gouv.fr)

"The reform of Europe is not a march towards supra-nationality," Sarkozy said. "Europe will reform itself by pragmatically drawing the lessons of the crisis. The crisis has pushed the heads of state and government to assume greater responsibilities because ultimately they have the democratic legitimacy to take decisions."

"The integration of Europe will go the inter-governmental way because Europe needs to make strategic political choices."

Other than saying that sanctions for fiscal miscreants should be "more automatic", "preventative measures" should be reinforced, and all eurozone countries should have a constitutional "golden rule" on balancing the budget - much of which is already in the offing - Sarkozy gave little detail of what a possible EU treaty change would look like.

He and the German chancellor will discuss the issue in Paris on Monday, he said, and "together we will make proposals to guarantee the future of Europe."

The speech comes at a crucial time in the eurozone's debt saga with some commentators suggesting that a meeting of EU leaders next week is the last chance for politicians to master the crisis.

But for Sarkozy it was also an important domestic speech as he faces a tough re-election battle in presidential elections in April next year. He has to tread the fine line of sounding enthusiastic about the EU but not upsetting his centre-right UMP colleagues who do not want to give more power to Brussels.

The Socialist opposition is also not in favour of transferring more power to the EU level in the name of stricter budgetary discipline, with its presidential candidate Francois Hollande - ahead in the polls - saying as much during a visit to the EU capital on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Elysee Palace is also wary of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, who has based a plank of her electoral campaign on saying France should leave the single currency.

Sarkozy spoke out strongly in favour of the euro and maintaining the eurozone, saying its collapse would "paralyse" France.

The disappearance of the single currency would have "dramatic consequences for French people. It would make our debt unmanageable."

However, Sarkozy's vision on Europe differs to that of Angela Merkel, who has spoken about the need to create a full "fiscal union."

The relationship between the two countries, while nominally a partnership of equals, has been pushed out of kilter by the crisis.

France, with higher debt levels and rising borrowing costs, has been forced to follow Germany's tune on economic policy but both have said they will present joint proposals on reforming the treaty ahead of next week's meeting.

The German chancellor is expected to outline her ideas on treaty change before parliament on Friday (2 December).

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