Recovery plan, fight against global warming, creation of a minimum wage, overhaul of relations with Africa, reform of the Schengen area… No, this is not the program of a candidate for the election presidential election, but many of the priorities of France, which has held the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) since January 1, for a period of six months. Fourteen years after the last French presidency, led by Nicolas Sarkoz, the program prepared by Emmanuel Macron and Clément Beaune, the Secretary of State for European Affairs, is ambitious. With a great deal of communication and symbolic actions, such as the hanging of the European flag under the Arc de Triomphe, the President of the Republic has widely displayed his desire to move the lines at European level. But between the real role of the country which occupies the rotating presidency, the presidential election scheduled for April and, above all, the attitude of the other Member States, wouldn’t France have aimed too high?
>> The article to read to know everything about the French presidency of the European Union
A first observation is obvious when reading France’s priorities: the agenda is full. The reason, as Olivier Costa, EU specialist and research director at the CNRS, explains to franceinfo, is due to the fact that “we find three different temporalities on the agenda of the French presidency”. First, “the files which are already in negotiation, some of which will be finalized under the presidency of France”, such as the discussions on the minimum wage or the Schengen area. Then come “reform proposals driven by France”: if the European Commission accepts them, they “will only be completed in 12 to 18 months”. Finally, Emmanuel Macron, in “a very French style”, also endeavored to launch “major debates on very broad issues such as European sovereignty”. On certain subjects, the discussions of which are coming to an end, the French teams will have to ensure that the compromises are as satisfactory as possible for the 27 member countries of the EU. The task is likely to be difficult, particularly with regard to the establishment of a European minimum wage. “The countries of northern Europe, in particular Sweden and Denmark, are blocking on this subject, because they are afraid that a European law will break their model, based on social dialogue”, advances Sophie Pornschlegel, French political scientist -German at the think tank European Policy Center in Brussels. “The negotiations are going to be very tough.” Another subject dear to Paris, that of the adoption of a “strategic compass”, a sort of common text naming the threats that weigh on the EU, should on the other hand succeed in the coming weeks. Pushed for many years by France, the initiative is also a good example of how European policy works: launched under the German presidency in the second half of 2020, the project was thought out from the start in tandem with France. Other proposals, such as the digital tax at the EU borders or the reform of the Schengen area, will only be adopted in one or two years. “You have to see the presidency as a management of flows, underlines Olivier Costa. For example, the Climate package [qui vise à réduire de 55% les émissions de CO2 de l’UE d’ici à 2030 et la neutralité carbone en 2050] was proposed in July 2021 by the Commission, it would be an illusion to believe that the discussions can be completed by July.” France, therefore, has the responsibility of allowing the discussions and ensuring that the next presidency, that of the Czech Republic, which will start on July 1, 2022, finds a compromise on the subject. Far from the grand phrases, the heart of the work to be done relates above all to diplomacy: bringing to a successful conclusion the discussions in progress between the Member States, the Parliament and the Commission: “France’s role is to be an ‘honest broker’. In French, an honest mediator”, notes Tara Varma to franceinfo, director of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. In the European legislative process, it takes about two years, from their proposal by the European Commission to their final adoption, so that most decisions see the light of day.
“This whole process is difficult to explain to the general public, but that’s also what’s interesting about Europe, this culture of compromise.” Olivier Costa, research director at the CNRS at franceinfo
The success of the French presidency will first be measured by the ability of its diplomats to carry out issues that divide the 27. A job that has not always been easy for Paris, whose arrogance has often been criticized by the past by other member states, reports Courrier international. “I think the government realized that the working method had to change and that it was necessary to rely on more consultation and discussion,” judge Tara Varma. “What will make the difference and the quality of the presidency is the time spent contacting our partners and listening to them”, adds Olivier Costa, who notes that the feedback from European partners has so far been rather positive. “Clément Beaune is very careful about that, adds the researcher. France does not fall into its usual failings of speaking only to Germans and Italians.” Especially since France has strengths in terms of diplomacy, compared to some other member countries. “As a large EU country, France has many diplomats, who can advance many files at the same time, underlines Olivier Costa. This is not the case for many other, smaller countries. Take Luxembourg, even if the government services are recognized as very good, they are necessarily limited in number since the country is much smaller than France.” France’s size and its status as a founding member of the EU also allow it to launch major substantive debates aimed at profoundly transforming the European project. The organization of a summit aimed at redefining relations with Africa, or the question of European sovereignty, dear to Emmanuel Macron, are part of this category of subjects. Again, styles differ from country to country. “Some presidencies are very navel-gazing and only defend a few cases”, explains Olivier Costa. Others, like Germany, “are more pragmatic”, emphasizes Sophie Pornschlegel. Not very surprising, therefore, to see France aim far and wide with its proposals. “It’s something expected from France, to always try to push things as far as possible,” explains the researcher. Dreamy France versus realistic Germany? “Perhaps, but at the same time, someone has to move the lines,” judge Olivier Costa. Especially since here, to the French tradition is added “the Macron method”. “As often with the president, we put a lot of subjects on the table, the important thing is not that all are adopted as such, but that we talk about it”, notes Tara Varma. Above all, France has not waited its turn to push topics it considers priorities. As proof, according to Olivier Costa, the question of “strategic sovereignty” defended by Emmanuel Macron from the start of his mandate. While the subject caused indifference a few years ago, it is one of the priorities of the new Dutch and German governments.
The fact remains that, despite the preparation and the resources allocated to the French presidency, it risks being cut off by the presidential election, the first round of which is scheduled for 10 April. “Six months is already very short to move the files forward, so less than four is almost nothing,” sighs Sophie Pornschlegel. What about current files if Emmanuel Macron is not re-elected? “We see it in the calendar of planned events, there is nothing after the beginning of April”, adds Tara Varma. The question of postponing the French presidency for six months had arisen, but Emmanuel Macron finally opposed it. A way to show his commitment to Europe in the middle of the presidential campaign? “It’s true that the presidency of the Council is often used, and not only in France, to show that we are doing things in the EU”, notes Sophie Pornschlegel. Emmanuel Macron does not seem to be an exception to the rule.
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