- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

NICOSIA, Cyprus | More coordination with the United States in foreign policy and a stronger European defense are high on the agenda of French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he prepares to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Among other objectives revealed to Greek officials during Mr. Sarkozy´s visit to Athens on Friday are plans to secure Europe´s energy supplies, solidify stability in the Balkans and promote closer relations with the countries along the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

On the sensitive Balkan question, Mr. Sarkozy told his Greek hosts that “the best way to establish peace in the Western Balkans is to offer them, convincingly and wholeheartedly, a real future in Europe.” Greek officials say this would include Serbia´s membership in the EU, opposed by some member nations.

Diplomats generally interpreted the preview of Mr. Sarkozy´s plans as an indication of his intention to seek a greater, if not dominant, role for France in the often-divided grouping of 27 European nations.

His accent on closer cooperation with the United States was seen as an effort to influence the former communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe, which are much more supportive of U.S. policies than their west European partners.

The United States has long supported Mr. Sarkozy’s objectives that have considerably improved relations between Paris and Washington, for years tarnished by mutual sniping.

The French president, a year in office, has also indicated plans for rejoining NATO´s military wing, abandoned by President Charles de Gaulle.

“We agree with France,” U.S. Ambassador to NATO Victoria Noland said. “A European security and defense policy with only soft power is not enough. … As we look to the French presidency of the EU this summer, we hope France will lead an effort to strengthen European defense spending and upgrade Europe´s military capabilities.”

France takes over the EU presidency on July 1, and will hold it for six months.

Mr. Sarkozy, whose maternal grandfather was born in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, considers Greece to be the linchpin of Balkan stability. He has supported Greek opposition to the use of the term “Macedonia” by the former Yugoslav republic of that name. Greece claims that Macedonia proper is its northern region and the name should not be “usurped” by another country.

Mr. Sarkozy´s plans for a “Mediterranean Union,” in which coastal countries of Europe and North Africa would cooperate with the EU, faced opposition from several northern European countries that feared the plan could split the union.

In response, Sweden and Poland, with German backing, proposed setting up an EU “Eastern Partnership” that would, in effect, encourage efforts to shift the economic focus eastward rather than southward.

Turkey saw the Mediterranean Union plan as a ploy to torpedo its own EU candidacy, opposed by France.

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