If you were to give Nicolas Sarkozy the benefit of the doubt, you would say that one reason for his current diplomatic foray into the Middle East is his deeply held belief that the European Union needs strong, energetic, high-profile leadership to make its influence count in the world.

If you were to take a more sceptical view, you would say that Sarkozy enjoyed running France’s six-month EU presidency so much that, when it came to an end on December 31, he simply couldn’t bring himself to move out of the spotlight. Read more

According to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, last weekend’s G20 summit was a big success. “Never before have Anglo-Saxons agreed to subject credit ratings agencies to oversight and regulation,” he declared.

You know what, he’s right. Check out the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum’, the 8th century AD masterpiece by the Venerable Bede. This greatest of all Anglo-Saxon chroniclers had nothing to say about credit ratings agencies, and not just because he wrote in Latin. Read more

To get an idea of how the global financial crisis is testing the stability of the eurozone, look at the ever-widening spread between the yields on German and Italian 10-year government bonds: 25.8 basis points one year ago, 69.6 one month ago, 72.3 one week ago and 95.6 today.

With Greece the situation is even more acute: the spread between German and Greek bonds shot above 100 basis points last week for the first time since Greece adopted the euro in 2001. It is now close to 120 basis points. Portuguese, Spanish, Belgian and even Austrian and Dutch yield spreads are also wider than at any time since Europe’s monetary union started in 1999. Read more

By common consent, Nicolas Sarkozy has had, for the most part, a good financial crisis. But he slipped up this week when he suggested European Union member-states should create their own sovereign wealth funds to invest in European companies and stop foreigners from buying up “strategic assets” on the cheap.

This proposal was flawed on so many counts that it is hard to know where to begin. But here we go. First, there is no evidence that non-European sovereign wealth funds are trying to seize control of strategic or even non-strategic European assets, least of all by means of hostile takeovers. Dark hints to the contrary do nothing but harm the EU’s relations with the countries where the funds are based. In fact, they risk deterring the funds from making benign investments in Europe. Read more

Surprises galore at the European Union summit that opened in Brussels on Wednesday. The heroes of the hour are turning out to be Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy. Angela Merkel and Silvio Berlusconi are still recovering from poor performances in the run-up to the summit. And as for the leaders of Poland … the least said, the better.

First, Brown. Eyes popped out when Brown showed up in Brussels, hours before the summit started, for a conversation with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso and an appearance before the media. Could this really be the same UK prime minister who, less than a year ago, deliberately arrived late for an EU summit so that he wouldn’t be seen signing the bloc’s Lisbon treaty at the same time as the other leaders? Read more