Martin Callanan is a Conservative MEP for the North East.
There is a certain irony to the fact that on the same day that ConservativeHome revealed that we at the party conference are to be treated to a video link with French presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy, the man himself was in Spain calling for the creation of a “Single European Asylum Office”. If anyone is tempted to believe that no-one could make more of a mess of asylum and immigration policy than our own Home Office then think again. Believe me, Brussels can, and probably will!
So why is Nicolas Sarkozy beaming in to our conference? Is this David Cameron’s reward from the EPP for reneging on his promise to take Conservative MEP’s out of the EPP group in the European Parliament? I wonder what else David Cameron and William Hague have promised Sarkozy in return for his endorsement? Sarkozy is, of course, a strong supporter of the failed European Constitution although, unlike many in the EPP, he has recognized the reality of the ‘No’ vote in France and called for a initial "mini treaty" containing only the "non-controversial" (his words) bits of the failed treaty – mainly a new President of the Council and a new EU Foreign Minister. He presumably believes that France won’t have to have a further referendum on these changes and risk further public rejection. Meanwhile, most of the other bits of the constitution are being quietly enacted regardless. Witness the current proposals to give Brussels full competence over justice and home affairs matters (supported by Sarkozy as French Interior minister), a key pillar of the rejected Constitution. What’s the betting that Nicolas will not be sharing his views on this with our Conference?
On a more positive note, Sarkozy is extremely charismatic and is very popular in France for pushing through hard-line law and order and, ironically, anti-immigration laws. He is also reported to be in favour of ‘American style’ economic and labour market reform. Although quite how this sits with his support for the EU’s ruinous social chapter is hard to work out. Sarkozy does seem somewhat confused on the economic reform message, since he is a leading light in the current French Government which is currently engaged in trying to create French ‘industrial champions’. This attempted return to 1970’s corporatism is being met with derision by most other member states and even by the European Commission.
It will also be interesting to see whether Sarkozy informs us of his views on international trade matters. David Cameron has, quite rightly, placed a great emphasis on trade reform, particularly with Africa. The main stumbling block to this is, of course, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy which is barring African produce from access to European markets. This position is enthusiastically defended by the entire French political class (including Sarkozy), who are even seemingly unconcerned by the risk of their intransigence causing the current world trade talks to collapse completely.
Unsurprisingly, given his desire to be elected in France, Sarkozy is opposed to Turkey joining the EU, a position which, I suspect, will endear him to Conservative activists (although not the leadership) slightly more than some of his other views.
Many of the things currently being written about Sarkozy (The “French Thatcher” etc) were also written about the EPP’s other leading light, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, before her election last year. Although she is constrained by sharing power with the Social Democrats she has done remarkably little to justify the pre-election hype. Germany assumes the EU presidency in January 2007 and her main priority is said to be breathing some life into the corpse of the Constitution. So, far from pushing the EU in the direction of liberalisation or economic reform it appears that we will be spending our time in yet more institutional navel gazing. Business as usual then.
Time will tell whether Sarkozy, if he is elected to succeed Chirac as French president will prove to be any different to other EPP leaders before him. Personally, I’m skeptical.