Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Nicolas Sarkozy: Turkophobe and protectionist?
By Charles Grant

Most EU governments wanted Nicolas Sarkozy to win the presidential election. They think his liberalising economic agenda stands a fair chance of boosting France’s lacklustre economic performance. And they believe that his support for a ‘mini-treaty’ will make it easier for Chancellor Angela Merkel to get the whole EU behind her plans for an ‘amending treaty’ that would save parts of constitutional treaty. Furthermore, several governments – including that in London – are particularly happy that Sarkozy says he will not hold a referendum on any new EU treaty, since that diminishes the pressure on them to hold referendums of their own.

However, on two subjects Sarkozy worries other European governments: Turkey and protectionism. He has made his opposition to Turkish membership of the EU very clear, suggesting that instead it could join a ‘Mediterranean Union’. Most European leaders – including Merkel, who is no fan of Turkish membership – believe it crucial to maintain the process of Turkish accession, whatever its long-term outcome. They would echo what Ségolène Royal had the courage to remark during her TV duel with Sarkozy, namely that to slam the door in Turkey’s face could destabilise the country’s fragile democracy. An end to the accession talks would certainly strengthen the authoritarian Turkish nationalists who oppose closer ties with the EU.

I have no doubt that leaders such as Merkel, Tony Blair, José Manuel Barroso and George Bush will all ask Sarkozy to moderate his line on Turkey. They will tell him: by all means say you will oppose Turkish membership, if and when the accession talks conclude; but for the time being let the talks continue, for they play an important role in promoting economic and political reform in Turkey.

Sarkozy could disregard that advice, and give greater priority to his domestic opinion poll ratings, in which case his election would be very bad news for Turkey. But he might well think it in his self-interest to avoid annoying a group of the world’s most influential leaders, with whom he will have to work on many other subjects. So I would not be surprised if he lets the accession talks continue. If he does, the Turks may even – one day – welcome his coming to power. That is because he offers a real prospect of reviving the French economy. And I don’t believe the French will ever vote in referendums in favour of new EU members, so long as they feel insecure about their future, threatened by unemployment, and hostile to globalisation. Sarkozy offers France at least a chance of breaking out of its vicious circle of slow growth, introspection and lack of confidence.

The other worry about Sarkozy is the apparent contradiction in his thinking. He supports Thatcherite policies at home – he promises to slim the state, cut taxes and liberalise labour markets – but attacks the Commission’s trade and competition policies, as well as the monetary policy of the European Central Bank. In his first speech as president-elect, he asked France’s partners “to hear the voice of the peoples who want to be protected”. In his recent book, I was struck by his vehement opposition to the foreign ownership of French companies (for my review of this book in Prospect, see
http://www.cer.org.uk/articles/grant_prospect_march07.html). I suspect that his support for economic autarky reflects what he really thinks, and that he does not say it merely to win votes. But its impact on voters should not be ignored. As Jean Pisani-Ferry of the Bruegel think-tank notes, “In a country where 55% of voters rejected the EU constitution on economic grounds and more than 70% see globalisation as a threat, a sure recipe for losing support is to wear the clothes of the Brussels-Frankfurt orthodoxy.” (See http://www.eurointelligence.com/article.581+M5c348ce2a46.0.html.)
If Sarkozy does try to combine economic liberalism at home with protectionism at EU level, he will be heading for a big clash with his EU partners – most of whom support the EU’s broadly liberal trade and competition policies. However, as with the case of Turkey, his astute understanding of power-politics, and his strong desire to be an influential European leader, may moderate his hostility to the Brussels orthodoxy. If he wants other EU leaders to do him favours on issues that matter to France – and he will – he will have to learn to play the European game. And that means treating the Commission and its policies with some respect.

Furthermore, Sarkozy is unlikely to share Chirac’s visceral hostility to reform of EU farm policy – Chirac had been a farm minister and prided himself on his rural roots, which Sarkozy does not have. In any case, whatever Sarkozy’s own views on foreign investment and foreign trade, if he succeeds in reviving the French economy, the pressure from French voters for protectionism will dwindle.

Charles Grant is director of the Centre for European Reform.


Wolfgang White said...

To speak about Franch-EU-Turkish relations and not to mention the Middle East crisis, nor USA, (except Baby 'the war' Bush - as a part of a group of EU's leaders), is not what I was expecting from the director of of one think-tank.

If you don't mind I'll stick to chief economist's analyses from now on. Much more closer to my taste.

Thomas Lefebvre said...

All the signs show that Sarkozy is going to ask for a break on the EU/Turkey negotiations (see Lamassoure interview on euobserver.)I believe that, as he made such a high preference in his campaign, he won't turn back.

On the CAP, it is indeed interesting to see that Sarkozy did not say much about it durign his campaing. He talked about prices that need to be guaranted (by who?) and asked that agriculture should stay productivist (much like Chirac). Moreover, Sarkozy attacked Mandelson more or less in the same way that Chirac did. Not sure that things will change much.

Emma and Jeremy said...

I'm not so sure the idea of a Mediterranean Union should be dismissed so lightly. In the short term it does appear to offer sideline Turkey's EU aspirations into a second best option (with Sarkozy offering Turkey a co-leadership role).

But would it be second best or a new approach to Neighbourhood Policy? In the longer term Morocco, at least, will also be seeking probable membership of a very wide EU. And Tunisia, Lebanon? Is Mark Leonard's rather bleak 2020 forecast of a region outside the general international flow really the only option?

The Barcelona process has a few more years to run in its current work programme. A Med Union will take several years to construct.. is it a possible successor to Barcelona? Its attraction to the Med partners is clear as it may offer them a more equal relationship to the EU rather than the existing process of Action Plans.

French business leaders were promoting the Med Union concept back in January in Turkey well before the election campaign. It offers Turkey's reformers a tangible immediate step and enables EU citizens in 10-15 years time to make a choice between Turkey as Med Union partner or a full partner in the EU.

By then perhaps we will have determined whether a country under Sharia law does meet the Copenhagen criteria and can inform Turkey accordingly.

Anonymous said...

I realize that realism is part -sometimes large part - of a healthy political discourse/policy, but isn't the fact that Turkey forcibly occuppies large part of Cyprus - now European Union soil - a real fact also? We don't read about this fact in any of the discussions/essays about Turkey's EU aspirations at the CER. Or when we do read something it is usually a comment very dismissive of the case of Cyprus; as if one whole country, a member of the EU, doesn't matter.
Perhaps Mr. Sarkozy represents a much needed new generation of leaders with more political morals, a true believer of a common fate for European small and large nations.