Nicolas Sarkozy: Europe's strength will be tested in the coming months

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The Independent Online

I'm convinced that the world needs an independent, united, imaginative and strong Europe, which is the friend of the whole world in the sense of being ready to talk to the whole world. A Europe which, I hope, will at last give itself the institutions it needs: a president elected for two and a half years. This depends on our Irish friends. I want to pay tribute to the courage of Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who has announced a referendum for 2009. We will support them. Ireland has to understand that Europe needs her and that she needs Europe. This will enable us to have a Europe which can speak with one voice – as it has to in the gas crisis where I would call on everyone to have a modicum of common sense.

For Ukraine, France has done a lot. Under the French presidency we established an enhanced partnership. I understand the political rivalries. They must not hold us to ransom through an energy conflict, affecting millions of Europeans who expect better. Ukraine's credibility is at stake.

As for Russia, I am among those who think that Europe has to have a structural, strategic, long-term agreement with the Russians, that we have nothing to fear from Russia, which is a great country, with whom, moreover, we share many cultures. But Russia too must make things clear. When you supply two thirds of the gas Europe needs, you respect your customers, just as customers respect their supplier. I am convinced that through a high-level dialogue we'll be able to find an agreement. Europe must remain united in its discussions both with the Russians and with Ukraine. The world needs a Europe which takes initiatives and isn't afraid of its shadow and which, in the end, wins victory for the values of balance, democracy and respecting one's neighbours.

We will have to deal with many other issues: Nato and its future, the initiatives of the United States President, and China, who must pull her full weight on the international stage in the service of peace and development.

So you see, I said this year would be difficult. In conclusion, I'm going to tell you that it will be gripping, because it's not every year that we can say to ourselves: this year there really are some decisive, some watershed events.

Taken from the French President's diplomatic address on 16 January