Controversy, quarrels mark Sarkozy’s EU start

July 3rd, 2008 - 9:14 am ICT by IANS  

By Siegfried Mortkowitz
Paris, July 3 (DPA) French President Nicolas Sarkozy must certainly have imagined the beginning of his six-month term as head of the European Union (EU) far differently, for everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, and much of it was his own doing. On Tuesday, the first day of France’s six-month term as EU president, Polish President Lech Kascynski said he was not going to sign the Lisbon Treaty reforming EU institutions because the Irish rejection of it in June had rendered it “pointless”.

That bombshell altered Sarkozy’s plans for the EU presidency just hours after it had begun. Sarkozy admitted as much Tuesday, saying that resolving the treaty crisis had become the top priority of the French EU presidency.

But this was certainly not his fault. Most analysts attributed Kascynki’s decision to Polish political in-fighting, rather than as a swipe at Sarkozy.

However, the bitter feud that has erupted between the French president and EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson can be laid at his doorstep.

Sarkozy had fiercely criticised Mandelson’s negotiating policy in a televised interview Monday, saying “I will not allow” any proposal in which Europe cuts its agricultural production, reduces its farm exports and loses what he said would be 100,000 jobs.

Late Tuesday, Mandelson hit back, telling the BBC that Sarkozy’s criticism only made his job more difficult.

“I am being undermined and Europe’s negotiating position in the world trade talks is being weakened and I regret that,” he said.

“It is very disappointing because the mandate on which I am negotiating in the world trade talks - and trying on Europe’s behalf to bring them to a successful conclusion - has been agreed by all the member states.”

But not all of Sarkozy’s problems are European. At home, he has become the target of criticism from several quarters for his declarations and behavior.

The most irksome, perhaps, is a video circulating on the Internet that shows him berating a television sound technician for not returning his “bonjour”.

Filmed without Sarkozy’s knowledge, as he was being made up for his late-Monday televised interview on the public TV station France 3, it shows Sarkozy at his most peevish.

“It’s a matter of upbringing,” he can be heard saying snidely after the snub. “When you’re a guest you have the right to expect a bonjour. We’re not in the public service here; we are at a demonstration. Incredible… That’s going to change.”

The video has been seen online some 800,000 times, France-Info reported Wednesday. Coming several months after another video showed him crudely berating a man who refused to shake his hand, it will do little to improve his image, both in France and throughout Europe.

Perhaps more serious for Sarkozy is the feud he has provoked with the French armed forces, which came out into the open following a dramatic incident in a southern military barracks in which 17 people, including five children, were injured during a military show.

The incident occurred because a France paratrooper loaded his rifle with live bullets instead of blanks, apparently by accident.

According to French media reports, Sarkozy flew to the site of the incident, in the city of Carcassonne, and berated the Army’s general staff, especially its chief, General Didier Cuche.

First he refused to return Cuche’s salute, then he pointed his finger at him and shouted, “You are all irresponsible, (you are) not professionals.”

French media attributed Sarkozy’s wrath to the resistance by many senior military officers to the wide-ranging reforms of the armed forces he has proposed.

On Tuesday, Cuche resigned from his post as French Army chief of staff, setting the stage for what is looking increasingly like a grave crisis.

Sarkozy’s role as EU president for the next six months will be to seek consensus among the Union’s 27 members on a number of crucial issues, such as immigration and the environment, and to find a way out of the Lisbon Treaty impasse.

To fulfill this role, he will need to be diplomatic and avoid controversies and quarrels, both at home and abroad. He has made a bad start.

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