Leading article: France's opportunity

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The Independent Online

France takes over the EU Presidency from Slovenia today, but it is a very different presidency, in a very different European mood, from the one its ebullient president had prepared for. France expected to preside over a European Union in which infuriating technicalities had been settled.

After the Irish "No" last month, it finds itself in the worst of two worlds: not only has the Lisbon Treaty not been ratified, but there is no agreement about what to do next. Nicolas Sarkozy is confronting at once a pre-Lisbon and no-Lisbon Europe.

It is not hard to imagine the frantic scrabbling and redrafting in the Parisian corridors of power in the past two weeks. M. Sarkozy's hopes of ushering in the first instruments of an EU foreign policy have been dashed. The clunky old European administrative machine will have to be serviced and tuned up for another stint.

Not all France's plans, however, need be cast into the dustbins of the Quai d'Orsay. One of the French priorities is defence. There is no reason why the lack of the treaty should cramp M Sarkozy's ideas about upping European capabilities, while sweetening relations with the US "pillar" of Nato. Nor need France abandon its ideas about co-ordinating an EU policy on immigration and asylum. Closer co-operation on security is something else in which all EU countries have an interest.

The Lisbon Treaty was – perhaps still is – mainly about how the European Union functions. If France can persuade the other 26 to lift their eyes from procedural navel-gazing, it will find plenty to make the next six months worthwhile.