Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Mr Nasty

Nicolas Sarkozy is refusing to attend the ceremony in Prague at the New Year to mark the handing over of the EU Presidency from France to the Czech Republic.

His intention appears to be to make the Czechs look illegitimate as leaders of the EU. Sarkozy has just spent the last six months posing as some sort of elected full-term president of Europe. He even wanted the Czechs to let him continue in office after their turn in the EU Presidency came. But the Czechs refused to treat him as anything other than what he was: a politician whose country held the six-months EU Presidency only because its number came up in the take-a-ticket-and-wait queue.

Sarkozy won't forgive the Czechs for their insult to his pretensions. Such bad form from Sarkozy is of course entirely predictable. He is a Frenchman, not a Gentleman --which is something the Irish need to keep in mind when they are pondering what his word, what his 'guarantees' are worth over the Lisbon Treaty.

At the European summit earlier this month, the compliant Irish Government rigged up a list of 'concerns' which they presented to Sarkozy and the leaders of the other EU states as the reasons the Irish voted No to the treaty. Sarkozy assured the Irish that 'legally binding guarantees' would be given to cover the issues if they would vote again on the treaty, and vote Yes.

When members of the majority No vote in Ireland pointed out that declarations and political guarantees carry no legal weight, that the only thing legally binding is treaty law -- and the EU members were unwilling to write the guarantees into the Lisbon Treaty -- the Irish were told that the guarantees could be added instead to the accession treaty for Croatia, to be ratified in 2010.What Sarkozy, and his collaborators in the Irish Government, kept very quiet was how far off track the accession of Croatia has gone. Brussels knows 2010 is looking pretty unlikely now, but they are not saying much about it.

The problems go all the way back to the break-up of Yugoslavia: Slovenia, which is a member of the EU, is refusing to accept Croatia's version of just where their common border lies. Slovenia says Croatia must give in on the dispute, or it will block accession. Croatia says it will not give up national territory in order to join the EU. Then there are further disputes between the two on things from fishing rights to a nuclear power plant.

The European Voice points out that there is also the continuing trouble over Croatian cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal, and Croatian worries that membership of the EU will mean an end to state aid for their shipbuilding industry, a sector that counts for 15 percent of their exports. All these are reasons to delay accession, but if there are further delays, 'support for accession could evaporate, some fear. Only 29 percent of Croats give an unequivocal Yes to EU membership, the lowest figure in any former communist state that has sought membership.'

'This lack of enthusiasm runs deep. Croats are now tired of the integration narrative. They are relatively rich. For 15 years, they have travelled largely visa-free across Europe. They are not desperate enough to view EU membership as a panacea.' All of which means -- wonderfully - that the Croatians' own referendum on accession to the EU could result in a No vote. That would mean that the accession treaty, and the Irish guarantees attached to it, would tank.

Though by that time the Irish would have been fooled into a second referendum on Lisbon next autumn, and possibly bullied into a Yes vote. If that happens, they will find out just what it is worth when a man such as Sarkozy gives his word.