Sakozy, the Crisis, and the EU

I think the trouble Art Goldhammer of French Politics identifies here is the kind oftrouble Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes. The two things Sarkozy really lackeddomestically in the first year of his presidency were a real crisis anda real opponent. They’re the gas that makes his political engine run,and he’s gotten both in spades on the European level during France’s EUpresidency. As for the opponents Art mentions, I don’t think Sarkozyloses much politically by counting Czech president Vaclav Klaus amonghis enemies. Same goes for President Bush. In his response to thefinancial crisis, I think Sarkozy, despite his wild ideologicalopportunism (neoliberal to state-directed mercantilist in the space ofa month), would still win a public opinion poll over Bush. And theFranco-German tension is sewn into the fabric of the EU flag.

Far from fracturing the Union, as Art suggests in another post, I think the last fewmonths have made it clear why the EU is so essential. Politics impliesbattles and disagreements. But the takeaway from the last three monthsis the EU’s ability to effectively weigh in on hot crises, on thecondition that it ultimately manage to achieve consensus.

I also think that in times of crisis like these, what people retain isthe image of dynamic leadership, so long as it isn’t perceived aserratic (read: John McCain). And Sarkozy’s leadership style is made fortimes of crisis. His response first to Georgia, now to the financialcrisis, is classic Sarkozy: exagerrated, perhaps, delusions ofgrandeur, sure, I’ll grant you, but also, and perhaps most importantly,inescapable. He has returned the EU, and more particularly France (andeven more particularly himself), to a central place in the news cycle.For Sarkozy, that might be in reverse order of priority. But for theEU, which hopefully will be able to make the distinction, the case hasbeen definitively made for a strong executive with a mandate to act onthe global stage on Europe’s behalf.