Nicolas Sarkozy

In our interview published today with Michel Barnier, the silver-haired Frenchman who oversees the EU’s financial system, he talks in great depth about the future of banking regulation and his relationship with François Hollande.

EU commissioner Michel Barnier

EU commissioner Michel Barnier

For Barnier, the election back home not only brought him a new French president to deal with, but also a mixed legacy for his political home, the centre-right UMP. The party’s standard-bearer Nicolas Sarkozy used the waning days of the campaign to openly court voters who had supported the far-right National Front through anti-EU rhetoric.

In addition to threatening to pull France out of the EU’s passport-free Schengen travel zone, Sarkozy regularly belittled the European Commission and urged “buy French” policies that violated the EU’s common market.

In our hour-long interview, Barnier insisted that such Europe-bashing was only the result of overheated politics ahead of a contentious vote. “I think you have to put to one side the electoral campaign,” he said, citing UMP party luminaries like François Fillon and Alain Juppé who have strong pro-European pedigrees.

Still, Barnier said he intends to actively insert himself in the post-Sarkozy debate about the UMP’s future – though he assiduously declined to say what role him himself might play in that new party. Read more

France's Nicolas Sarkozy has made EU borders an issue in his re-election campaign

The issue of the European Union’s passport-free travel zone has become a political hot potato again, thanks in part to Nicolas Sarkozy, who has warned during his presidential re-election campaign that France would withdraw from the border agreement unless more safeguards are adopted.

With just days before voting in the first round of the French election, Sarkozy’s government is pushing the issue back onto the EU agenda, this time with German assistance.

In a joint letter sent to the Danish presidency, Claude Gueant, the French interior minister, and Hans-Peter Friedrich, his German counterpart, are calling for countries to be granted the right to re-impose border controls unilaterally for 30 days if national authorities believe other countries – particularly on the EU’s southern and eastern frontiers – aren’t securing their borders.

A leaked copy of the letter Brussels Blog got its hands on (in French) can be read here. A look at the proposal (in English) after the jump… Read more

eurocoasterWelcome back to our live coverage of the eurozone crisis. By Tom Burgis and Esther Bintliff on the  newsdesk in London, with contributions from FT correspondents around the world.

All times are GMT. This post should update automatically ever few minutes, but it may take longer on mobile devices.

Europe’s leaders gather in Brussels today for another crunch summit. This time, we’re told, it’s different. Expectations are running high for a new grand bargain to restore sanity to the eurozone’s finances and chart a course out of the debt crisis. We’ll bring you all the build-up, plus:

  • The European Cental Bank’s interest rates decision and press conference from Mario Draghi, the ECB president under pressure to deploy more of the central bank’s resources to shore up the euro
  • The meeting of centre-right European leaders in Marseille, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy of France, the two key players in the euro drama
  • The unveiling by the European banking authority of the individual capital needs of Europe’s banks

 Read more

Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace on Monday. Photo: Remy de la Mauvinere/AP 

Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel before their meeting at the Elysee palace on Monday. Photo: Remy de la Mauvinere/AP

Welcome back to our live coverage of the eurozone crisis. By Esther Bintliff on the world news desk in London, with contributions from FT correspondents around the world.

This post should update automatically every few minutes, but it may take longer on mobile devices. All times are GMT.

16.15: One of the areas where Angela Merkel appears to have backed down is around the role of the European Court of Justice, reports Joshua Chaffin, our correspondent in Brussels:

Ms Merkel had wanted the ECJ – the European Union’s highest court – to become the ultimate enforcer of new budget rules for the eurozone countries.

 Read more

France and Germany may be divided over the key issues on the agenda of today’s European Union summit. But President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel have found common ground in the need to hammer Italy over its heavy debt load.

The leaders of the EU’s biggest and most powerful member states called in Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, this morning for a pre-summit tongue-lashing. The message they delivered, according to one diplomat familiar with the discussion, was that Italy must deliver “specific and convincing reform measures soon.” They communicated a similar message to Berlusconi at a gathering on Saturday evening held by the centre-right European People’s Party.

Sarkozy also expressed his displeasure with Italy’s refusal to make way for a Frenchman on the European central bank’s executive board, according to the diplomat. France is due to lose its seat when Jean-Claude Trichet steps down as ECB president at the end of the month to be replaced by Mario Draghi, the outgoing president of the Bank of Italy. Berlusconi infuriated the French this week when he declined to free up a seat on the powerful decision-making committee by refusing to name current board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi as Draghi’s replacement. Read more

Merkel and Sarkozy at their post-summit news conference Tuesday evening in Paris

The letter Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel sent yesterday to the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, contains a lot of ideas that have been discussed previously in Brussels and not gone very far, raising questions as to how much of the new Franco-German agenda can actually be implemented.

But reading between the lines of the letter, one theme that has gone almost unnoticed is the seeming sidelining of the institution that is supposed to be at the centre of European integration: the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch headed by José Manuel Barroso.

Suggesting that Van Rompuy head regular summits of eurozone heads of state as “the cornerstone of the enhanced economic governance of the euro area” is only part of the seemingly anti-Commission tenor of the plan. Read more

Draghi meets German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin last week

Mario Draghi meets German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin last week

UPDATE: Draghi has been confirmed, but not before lots of horse-trading. See our story here.

Day two of the European Union summit is already underway, and among the issues we will be watching closely is the nomination of Mario Draghi to become head of the European Central Bank, which even at this late date appears not entirely a done deal.

As we’ve been reporting for several weeks, France has been grumpy that Draghi’s confirmation will lead to two Italians on the ECB’s executive board and no Frenchman, since the current president, Jean-Claude Trichet, is retiring. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, thought he had a deal with Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi for the second Italian, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, to resign.

But Bini Smaghi, citing the ECB’s independence, has resisted political pressure, and is rumoured to be holding out for Draghi’s current job: head of the Bank of Italy. Berlusconi, however, has an alternate candidate in mind and has thus far resisted French pressure. Read more

For those looking for a break from Osama bin Laden news, Brussels Blog is keen to tout our scoop today on the forthcoming European Commission proposal on migration, and how it’s expected to suggest allowing countries to re-impose border controls when they’re overwhelmed by illegal immigrants.

Although some diplomats had been concerned about a new round of demagoguery over the issue, the decision by José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president, to embrace calls for overhauling Europe’s visa-free Schengen area rules appears designed to turn the debate into a technocratic one over when and where such controls can be reinstituted.

In a letter over the weekend to Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi, the French and Italian leaders whose dispute over North African immigrants has put the issue back in the spotlight, Barroso acknowledged the “temporary restoration of borders is a possibility” he was considering, but emphasised the devil is in the details: Read more

With France’s presidential election already in high gear, some top EU diplomats Brussels Blog has talked to in recent weeks are concerned that in the months leading to the summer break, the Brussels agenda could become overwhelmed by the politically sensitive issue of migration.

Tuesday’s summit between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is evidence their concerns are well placed.

For those who haven’t read it yet, it’s worth taking a look at the letter Berlusconi and Sarkozy sent to the EU’s two presidents, Commission chief José Manuel Barroso and Council boss Herman Van Rompuy. Pay special attention to the letter’s section III, where the two propose “enhanced security” in Europe’s visa-free Schengen area. Read more

In today’s paper, my Berlin-based colleagues Quentin Peel and Gerrit Wiesman note that it’s been a bad week for the eurozone’s most high-profile centre-right leaders: Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy both saw their parties trounced in regional elections, and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi was back in court.

But what remains unclear is whether the traditional centre-left can capitalise on the faltering conservatives. If recent evidence is any indication, it’s not a clear-cut trade-off at all. Indeed, in eurozone countries where governments have either recently fallen or are likely to do so soon – Ireland, Portugal and Finland – centre-right parties are ascendant. Read more

As he entered today’s EU summit, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, made his first public comments about his unexpected plan for  for “defensive” air-strikes against forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, saying they should be used in the event Gaddafi uses chemical weapons or unleashes airpower against unarmed demonstrators.

“The French and the English have said that we are open, if the United Nations wants it, and if the Arab League accepts it, and if the Libyan authorities that we want to be recognised ask for it, to have targeted defensive operations in the sole eventuality that Gaddafi would use chemical weapons or use his warplanes to target non-violent demonstrators,” he told reporters. Read more

Today’s back-to-back European Union summits in Brussels kick off with a discussion on Libya, and it’s sure to be dominated by Nicolas Sarkozy’s unexpected decision to recognise the opposition Libyan National Council as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people.

Officials at both Nato (where defence ministers are meeting) and the European Union (where European foreign ministers lunched ahead of today’s heads-of-government summit) said Sarkozy’s initiative was not hugely popular; one foreign minister I talked to said it was 26 vs 1 during the EU session. There are widespread concerns about who, exactly, the west is embracing, since intelligence on the opposition’s leadership remails pretty thin. Read more

Twenty-six European leaders turned up for a dinner in Brussels this evening with one burning question to discuss: Whether or not to change the European Union treaties to accommodate Germany’s demands for a new permanent bailout fund?

But one European leader burst in and insisted on talking about something else. That would be David Cameron, the UK prime minister, and his obsession was the European budget. Read more

The call by Angela Merkel to reopen the European Union’s treaties in a major address to the Bundestag is already generating reaction from heads of government in other member states as they begin descending on Brussels for a two-day summit.

Ms Merkel worked the phones the day before the summit, calling several of her counterparts in an attempt to shore up support – a sign of just how precarious her position is and her need to come out of the summit with a victory following intense criticism at home for her political deal-making to win over reluctant allies. Read more