France to deliver solution to Lisbon 'psycho-drama' by end of 2008
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned Europe against falling into institutional paralysis in the wake of Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon treaty and said he hopes to propose a solution to the situation before the end of this year.
In a passionate speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday (10 July), Mr Sarkozy said that nothing was worse for him than "immobility" and stressed the EU should not let itself be paralysed because of yet another "institutional psycho-drama."
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"Europe has a duty to act now. We are not condemned to inaction," the French president said, adding that this would be the main message of his country's EU presidency.
He said that he would go to Ireland on 21 July "to listen and talk and try to find solutions."
"The French presidency is going to propose a method and I hope for a solution in the month of October or in December," he told MEPs.
Irish voters rejected the EU's Lisbon treaty on 12 June. While the document has been approved by parliaments in 20 other member states so far, it must be ratified by all 27 to enter into force.
Mr Sarkozy said he did not want to put pressure on "our Irish friends," but said that at the same time, it must be clear whether the European Parliament elections next June will be based on the current Nice Treaty or the Lisbon Treaty.
"We have [still] a little time, but not a lot," the president said, reiterating that negotiating a new treaty is not an option.
The French priorities remain
The ambitious agenda of the French EU presidency – which started on 1 July and will continue until the end of the year – will not be affected by this "institutional problem," Mr Sarkozy said.
Paris' "absolute priority" in the next six months will be tackling climate change, notably by pushing for the adoption of legislative proposals on how to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020 – a goal agreed by EU leaders last year.
Harmonising the 27 member states' immigration policies and strengthening the bloc's defence capacity are the other main policy areas outlined by the president.
"If Europe is not able to defend itself, how can you want it to be a political power?" asked Mr Sarkozy, underlining that his plans did not aim to undermine NATO, but to develop the EU's defence capacities parallel to those of the North Atlantic alliance.
France also plans to defend European agriculture in the name of "common sense."
"In 2050, there will be 9 billion people on this planet … This is not the time to scale down Europe's food production", the French leader said.
An 'outstanding' debate
Mr Sarkozy's presentation in the European parliament was followed by a lengthy debate with MEPs, which in the end resulted in the president staying three and a half hours in the plenary session.
"I have been in the European parliament for 29 years and this today was one of the most outstanding meetings … The president responded to all the contributions [by the MEPs], taking them all seriously," the visibly pleased parliament's president, Hans-Gert Poettering, told journalists following the debate.
Most political groups in the parliament backed the French presidency's priorities, and most MEPs gave the French president a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
German Liberal Werner Langen compared Mr Sarkozy's presentation to that of former UK premier Tony Blair three years ago, saying it had been just as "convincing" – a comparison that appeared to please the French president.
But Mr Sarkozy also drew some criticism for his decision to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.
"Mr President, it is a shame, it is pathetic to go to the opening ceremony," Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit said.
The possibility of boycotting the Olympics' opening was first raised after China's crackdown in Tibet, following riots and protests there in March.
But Mr Sarkozy defended his position, arguing that "humiliating" Beijing would be the wrong approach.
"I want to go and I want to speak. I want to speak about human rights and defend them … I don't think you can boycott a quarter of humanity," he said.
For his part, Mr Poettering announced on Wednesday that he will not attend the event.