Free marketism should not be Europe's 'creed', says Sarkozy
By Honor Mahony
French president Nicolas Sarkozy has outlined a vision for Europe that would see "untramelled" capitalism pushed far down the political hierarchy to be replaced by a focus on cultural and spiritual issues with more than a hint of European protectionism.
Speaking to an unusually full European chamber in Strasbourg on Tuesday (13 November), Mr Sarkozy said that despite recently fixing its institutional set-up, Europe remains in a state of "moral and political crisis."
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The new Reform Treaty allows Europe to "take decisions and to act. But it does not say with what goals and with what purpose," said the president.
"Political questions still have to be dealt with," he said, adding that is why he is proposing the creation of a wise committee to discuss "without taboos" where Europe is going."
According to Mr Sarkozy, who has put France firmly back at the centre of the European stage since his May election, Europeans are having a "profound identity crisis (..) linked globalisation and the commercialisation of the world."
Noting that "economic values seem to win the day over other values," Mr Sarkozy said that it is a mistake to overlook culture.
"Europe can only be Europe in the eyes of all men if she defends spiritual values and civilisational values, if she gathers all her forces, all her energy for defending cultural diversity."
The French leader gave a lot of time to protectionism - a concept that has fallen out of favour in the EU since the more market-oriented eastern member states joined the bloc in 2004, coupled with the current European Commission with its strong liberal profile.
"The word protection should be not be outlawed," said the president adding that "we must be able to protect ourselves as much as others do."
"If others have the right to protect themselves against dumping, why not Europe? If other nations put industrial policies in place, why not Europe? If others defend their farmers, why shouldn't Europe defend its farmers?", he asked.
While Europe is "associated" with competition, it cannot be "alone in the world in making it a creed."
He went on to say that while Europe has chosen a market economy and capitalism, this should not give rise to "untrammelled capitalism."
His 30 minute speech - greeted with a standing ovation by MEPs - also drew to attention to the issues that France will focus on during its presidency of the EU in the second half of next year.
This is to include reform of the EU's farm policy after 2013, discussions on an eco-tax, and defence issues.
"How can Europe be independent (..) and have influence in the world if it is itself unable to guarantee its own security," said Mr Sarkozy.
But the French president, whose limelight-stealing activity on the European stage has both riled and charmed in almost equal measure, left one major topic out of his speech: enlargement and the issue of Turkish membership of the EU.
Some fear his wise group is front for halting Turkey's progress into the EU.
Since becoming president Mr Sarkozy has been credited with giving Europe the political impetus to agree a new treaty, he has also made suggestions for a Mediterranean union and has often spoke about the importance of European defence.
Meanwhile, he has caused friction in some quarters with his open criticism of the European Central Bank, falling back on promises to curb France's deficit and speaking of European industrial champions.