Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Sarkozy: National Leaders Must Make Decisions in Europe

Ralitsa Kovacheva, December 3, 2011

French people should hear the truth. And the truth is that we should change ourselves all together, French President Nicolas Sarkozy appealed in a key speech in Toulon, which was expected to present France's vision for the future of Europe. And we have heard it clearly and unambiguously. I believe that Sarkozy's "truth" has not been liked - as by many of his countrymen, so by the European institutions – the Parliament and the Commission, because the main thesis of his was that power in the EU must belong to the national leaders, who were democratically elected to make decisions.

But before getting there, Nicolas Sarkozy, as an outstanding speaker and a true Frenchman brought the truth to his countrymen in a spectacular and theatrical (in the best, purely dramaturgical sense) way - with a long prelude about the causes of the crisis and the mistakes made in the past, while highlighting the virtues of France, it's leading role in the world and sacrifices of the French people.

"Today fear has come back”, Sarkozy suddenly changed the tone to provide the necessary dose of dramatism. Fear, that destroys trust and paralyses the economy. "The fear that France loses control of our destiny." And the only way to fight this fear is to tell the truth. The truth is that we cannot continue in the same way, Sarkozy said. And once nailed the audience emotionally, he highlighted the difficult decisions that France should take.

France should reduce its deficit, thus reducing the impact of markets and regain control of its destiny. For decades, we have been spending too much and often badly, Sarkozy admitted, and the state does not give those who need more but those who protest more. And the key remark - our social model needs financial reform because we cannot maintain the current model of social protection, which inevitably reminded me of De Gaulle's remark, "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?"

However, Sarkozy said, we should work more and better, train more and better, invest more and better. Because it is better to work longer instead of reducing pensions; to work more rather than earn less. The pension reform can no longer be postponed, the president warned: "In the world, as it is, with the challenges we face, with what are the trends in demography, retirement at 60 and 35 hours were serious faults which we are now paying heavily consequences and that we have to fix it."

But France should do all this not alone but together with the others, because it is so engaged with the world, its economy is so immersed in the global economy, that "there is no difference between domestic policy and foreign policy, between national politics and European politics." But in any case this does not mean loss of sovereignty, Sarkozy said - Europe means not less but more sovereignty, because sovereignty is exercised with the others. So the French president replied bluntly to one of the most topical issues lately - that ‘more Europe’ or more integration means loss of national sovereignty. This depends mostly on the decision whether more integration means more power to European institutions. And here Sarkozy was adamant:

"Europe needs more democracy" and "the more democratic Europe is Europe, where it is the politicians who decide." The rebuilding of Europe, it is not the march toward more supranational, this is not the reopening of old quarrels between the nations of Europe and the European Parliament, Sarkozy said. The crisis has prompted the leaders to assume greater responsibility, because basically they alone had the democratic legitimacy that allowed them to decide, the French president underlined. And it must continue this way: "The integration of Europe will go the inter-governmental way because Europe needs to make strategic political choices." Moreover, Sarkozy said the euro area “must decide now to go without fear to more decisions by qualified majority.” Such a proposal to abandon the principle of unanimity in the Council has already been made by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

"Europe is no longer a choice. It is a necessity. But the crisis has revealed weaknesses and contradictions. Europe needs to be rethought. It must be redesigned," Sarkozy said. What Europe needs is "more discipline, more solidarity, more responsibility," backed by a new European Treaty. France and Germany insist on such a new treaty. One of the strongest moments in Sarkozy's speech was devoted precisely to Germany. He pointed out indirectly that the basis of the European Union is the idea of peace between France and Germany, which "after so many tragedies have decided to unite their destiny and to look to the future together. Going back on this would be unforgivable.”

Because, if France and Germany are united, Europe is also united and strong, and if they are divided - Europe is divided and weak. Sarkozy called for understanding the German position on the crisis in the euro area, referring to the German fears of inflation: "Everybody has a story, everybody has wounds. When we talk about the currency, Germany remembers its history. We must understand and we must respect that." In a demonstration of this understanding Sarkozy said that "the ECB is independent and will remain so," but indirectly urged the bank to act. "I am convinced that in the face of the deflationary risk menacing Europe the ECB will act. It will decide when and with what means. That is its responsibility."

Yes, there is a two-speed Europe or two Europes, as Sarkozy described them: "But in Europe, there is the Europe of 27 and there is the Europe of the Euro." What will remain in Europe if the euro disappears, if the heart of Europe's economy collapses, the French president asked rhetorically. Therefore, "it must be absolutely clear that all countries in the eurozone will be supportive of each other" and the Greek case will not be repeated. Therefore France wants a government of the euro area, which to consist of the leaders of the member states and a European Monetary Fund to be created.

But "if we want more solidarity, we need more fiscal discipline" – we must discuss our fiscal policies, not to be the same, but to converge rather than deviate from each other, Sarkozy said. There should be more automated, faster and tougher penalties for those who do not respect their commitments, Sarkozy insisted. This is a major change in the French position, apparently in support of the German insistence. "Convergence must be the watchword of the euro area," Sarkozy added, not only in fiscal terms but also in the economy as a whole. If the differences in living standards, productivity, competitiveness between countries are widening, the Euro will prove sooner or later too strong for some and too low for others and the euro area will break out, the French president warned.

In his vision of Europe, Sarkozy did not limit himself to the future of the euro area. The French president said that Europe could not continue tolerating social and tax dumping between member states – it cannot allow money, paid by Europe in support of some member states, to help them catch up on others to be used to lower their taxes and for unfair competition. He touched on another hot European topic, that had provoked sharp disputes in recent month between the member states themselves, on the one hand and between member states and European institutions, on the other. Europe could not continue to apply the principle of free movement without controlling its external borders, Sarkozy said: "Schengen must be rethought."

He did not miss the chance to underline another French priority, against the background of the discussions of the next seven-year EU budget, which have already started. "Europe must defend its common agricultural policy because in a world of scarce resources, food security is an essential element of independence." Thus, Sarkozy answered to the thesis, supported mainly by Britain, that the budget of the common agricultural policy must be significantly reduced and resources should be focused on Cohesion Policy, innovation and growth.

One day later, German chancellor Angela Merkel has also presented her ideas for changes in EU treaties and her vision for Europe. And on December 5 both met to reconcile their positions before the European Council on 8 and 9 December.