The economic and health crisis, climate change, the digital revolution, attempts to destabilise democracy and the migratory pressure – it is in an atmosphere of tension that France begins its rotating presidency of the EU Council.
However, this is not the first time that France has had to maneuver in troubled waters. In 2008, France presided over the EU in a delicate context: Ireland’s negative vote on the Lisbon Treaty, a diplomatic crisis linked to the Russian-Georgian conflict, but above all a global financial crisis of unprecedented proportions which a few months later led to Europe being torn apart.
The Member States’ response to the crisis led to the adoption of a European economic recovery plan of 200 billion euros. A measured commitment compared to the 750 billion euro recovery plan “Next Generation EU” put in place by the European Commission last summer.
But still too little for the French President, who aims to build a new European growth model in just a few months. It is a sovereign Europe that supports innovation and job creation while respecting its environmental objectives that the French government supports. These ideas are not new, as they are included in the major €30 billion national investment plan called France 2030, which the President wishes to discreetly export to the European level.
On the environmental front, the EUFP will also be an opportunity to make progress on the implementation of the “Fit for 55” plan, an ambitious legislative package aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
In 2008, France had already reached a historic agreement on the climate/energy package aimed at implementing, for the first time in Europe, a common policy on energy and the fight against climate change. In parallel, the security of energy supplies was a key issue in 2008 and will also be in 2022 through the overhaul of energy taxation.
On the other hand, the issue of digital technology – which was almost non-existent 13 years ago – is one of the key priorities of the EUFP. The message sent by the French government to the digital giants sounds the end of the playground: Europe will not be subject to the law of other powers in digital matters.
Gone are the days of oligopolies and the irresponsibility of platforms, as we make room for future European champions!
In addition to this particularly ambitious programme, there is the reform of the Schengen area, the establishment of a new social model through the European minimum wage, the end of pesticides, the introduction of mirror clauses in free trade agreements, the consolidation of European health, and the establishment of a genuine European defence.
Let’s not be fooled, the new German coalition does not intend to let Angela MERKEL’s departure weaken Germany’s weight on the European scene. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition is reaching out to Emmanuel Macron on many issues.
Indeed, the two governments seem to be aligned on the issue of the strategic sovereignty of the European Union and the means to achieve it. Under the generic term of sovereignty, however, sometimes divergent interests are hidden. While Germany and France share common interests in technology and industry, the issue of defence, migration management and the energy mix have yet to be determined.
Moreover, the new German government does not seem to be afraid of the reforms that France wishes to undertake under its presidency. While Emmanuel MACRON considered the Maastricht rules outdated and obsolete in his speech at the launch of the EUFP, all eyes are now on Germany.
If MERKEL’s Germany has always been extremely inflexible on these issues, the current political context and the European ambitions to assert itself as a leader in many areas encourage dialogue.
However, the appointment of Christian LINDNER to the Ministry of Finance will not make Emmanuel Macron’s task any easier. An assertive budgetary orthodox, the new minister will set a sufficiently strict framework to keep Member States’ public finances healthy. If Bercy considers the debate on the grasshopper and the ant to be outdated, certain vestiges remain very present in the mind of the new German coalition…
However, Emmanuel MACRON will be able to count on his Italian partner, Mario DRAGHI, who will be appointed President of the Italian Council of Ministers in February 2021.
Convinced Europeanists, defenders of liberalism and endowed with experience in the private sector, the two men have everything to become the new faces of Europe. Indeed, they share a common vision of the European Union: a sovereign Europe, militarily independent and more flexible in budgetary matters.
Since the signing of the bilateral cooperation treaty of “the Quirinal” on Friday 26 November 2021, Paris and Rome have finally made their union official with their European partners.
This alliance is not without an ulterior motive, since it allows a rebalancing of power between the three largest economic powers in the Union.
A few days before the start of the EUFP, the new Dutch government is loudly proclaiming its return to the European scene. This is hard to believe when one recalls the Dutch position during the negotiations on the European recovery plan in the summer of 2020.
Would Macron’s high aspirations for Europe in the context of the EUFP inspire new European vocations in our partners?
The new Dutch coalition led by Mark Rutte is determined to contribute to this new European growth model and shares with Paris its ambition to build a “more decisive, economically stronger, greener and safer” Europe.
Thus, France will be able to count on the support of the Netherlands concerning the carbon adjustment mechanism at the borders, the strategic autonomy of the Union, or the reform of the budgetary framework.
The EUFP will not be the government’s only priority in the first half of 2022, since next April the French presidential elections will take place. Irony?
Technically, France could have asked for a postponement of its presidency – a decision that would probably have been criticised as well – but which in fact was possible, contrary to what the President said during his presentation speech.
A media and political visibility that can be an advantage for the upcoming elections. Indeed, the programme of the FPEU seems to be part of a much longer calendar than the one reserved for France within the framework of its presidency, as it is very ambitious and dense. Running as President of Europe, MACRON will assert, as he did in 2017, his pro-European vision of France, at a time when all the candidates criticise the EU and advocate national sovereignty.
But let us not be too idealistic, a bad move in Brussels could have profound consequences in Paris. Emmanuel MACRON will therefore have to be careful, knowing how to speak to France and Europe with one voice. A particular situation that will perhaps lead the President to avoid any conflict with his partners and to favour political consensus.
It is also interesting to note that, while many are concerned about the instrumentalisation of the EUFP for national purposes, it must be said that, during the presentation of the programme on Thursday 9 December, the journalists seemed much more interested in the French presidential campaign than in the fate of Europe….
Degree in Political Science and European Law.
Project Assistant Paris