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France Takes Over Rotating EU Presidency, Saying 'Something Isn't Right'

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

France has assumed the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union from Slovenia.

Initially, Paris said it had big plans for its time as EU head. But the bloc has been plunged into crisis after Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty, which was meant to streamline EU institutions. And that threatens to overshadow anything France may seek to accomplish.

During a television interview to mark the start of France’s EU leadership, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy put it bluntly.

“Something isn’t right," he said. "Something isn’t right at all."

Optimistic Talk

It was a far cry from his optimistic talk just 10 days ago, when he promised that despite the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, Paris would work to unite all of the EU’s members.

"The role of the French presidency will be to bring the complete European family," he said. "And when I mean complete, I mean 27 of them. The second agreement is that any renegotiation of the treaty is out of the question"

In the wake of the Irish rejection, Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski announced he would not sign the Lisbon Treaty, which has already been ratified by the Polish parliament.

And German President Horst Koehler has also announced the suspension of the ratification procedure, pending a verdict from the country’s Constitutional Court.

The Czechs, too, have stopped their ratification process until their country’s high court rules on the treaty.

What it all adds up to is potential gridlock in the months ahead, as the EU tries to figure out how to move ahead. And it could spell the end of any ambitious plans for reforms under France’s leadership.

"The French presidency has priorities which are environment, energy, immigration and a change of politics on agriculture," says Paris-based political scientist Olivier Rozenberg. "The problem is that those problems are overshadowed by the institutional problem. Also, Europe is slow. It's not over a few months that one can change European legislation. It takes a lot of time for European laws."

'Average Shape'

On the first day of the French EU presidency, Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon are to hold working meetings with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

A ceremony is to be held at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris later in the day.

A formal handover ceremony of the EU presidency from Slovenia to France was held on June 30, with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel telling his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner that the union was "in rather good shape."

"You say it's in good shape," Kouchner remarked. "Well, yes, rather let's say it is in average shape."

Sarkozy is expected to launch his first high-visibility initiative -- the Mediterranean Union -- on July 12 with a grand summit in Paris.