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What to Expect From the 2022 French Presidency of the EU

ARTICLES - 13 January 2022

The first six months of 2022 will be hugely significant for France’s ambitions in Europe. Macron can use them to shape the EU’s future, if he can persuade other member states to come with him, says Georgina Wright.
 
On January 1, 2022, France kicked off its 13th presidency of the Council of the EU, the grouping of the 27 EU governments. For six months, France will be responsible for chairing meetings and finding compromises between member states and selling them to the other EU institutions - the Commission and the Council. But inevitably, its actions in Brussels will be refracted through the evolving campaign for the French Presidency, culminating in the April elections. 
 
For Macron, the French presidency of the EU matters. He wants to use the next six months to show there is substance to his slogan of a "Europe that protects". He needs to show the EU adds value by helping Europe’s economies to recover after Covid-19 and that it can act collectively to respond to climate change threats. He wants to launch new debates on the EU’s Schengen system, Europe’s external borders, the EU’s fiscal rules and do more for European youth. If Macron decides to run again, he will want to be able to point to French influence in Europe - and the ability of EU membership to amplify French interests.
 
To succeed, Macron cannot rely on the French government alone. He will need the support of EU countries and institutions. To do this, he will need to convince them that his ideas not only benefit France, but also the whole of the EU.

It is a Macron agenda

France’s program is, unsurprisingly, ambitious. It lists over 60 priorities raging from supporting European digital champions and improving trade defense instruments, to strengthening ties with Africa. It covers almost every current EU dossier.

Macron cannot rely on the French government alone. He will need the support of EU countries and institutions.

There are several reasons for this. First, each incoming Council presidency must take account of the work that is under way in the EU. France has inherited a particularly busy European agenda with over 250 pieces of legislation under discussion in the Council and the European Parliament. Many of them are listed in the French program as well as in the "Trio" program.

The latter is shared between France, the Czech Republic (which will take up the presidency in the second half of 2022) and Sweden (which will have the presidency in the first half of 2023). France is hoping to accelerate ongoing discussions.

Second, it reflects the influence that Macron has had in Europe since he became president. Many of the proposals under discussion in Brussels originated in the ideas he put forward to reform and strengthen the EU, which formed part of his election program and were set out in his Sorbonne speech in 2017. The French Presidency offers an opportunity to transform these ideas into EU law.

It is also an agenda whose origins lie well beyond the Elysée

But interestingly, the program includes proposals from citizens in France as well as the priorities of other EU governments.
 
In 2020, but especially in 2021, French ministers and senior officials traveled all across Europe to discuss the presidency and listen to the interests and concerns of their EU counterparts. Some of these concerns are clearly reflected in the agenda. For example, France has promised to organize a conference on the Western Balkans in June - a region that is particularly important to Germany and Central and Eastern European countries. France has downplayed the phrase "strategic autonomy", which has long divided the EU, preferring the less divisive term "sovereignty" to designate those policies that aim to make the EU a more able and capable actor without having to rely on partners and external resources.
 
The French government also convened meetings with French and non-French experts, regional representatives and civil society actors. Some of their contributions also made it into the program, like introducing a European civic service that will allow European citizens aged 16 to 25 to spend up to 6 months working for an NGO abroad.

More importantly, the program sets out a vision that goes well beyond the six-month presidency. France wants to launch new dialogues on a new European growth model, the best way to attract investment and strengthen the EU’s Schengen system. France has planned hundreds of meetings as well as big conferences on Europe-Africa relations and the Indo-Pacific.

France wants to launch new dialogues on a new European growth model.

Macron will need to be careful with his messaging

Macron faces several risks.
 
Much of the French presidency’s work will be concentrated in the first three months of 2022, before the first round of the French election on April 10. By hosting conferences and summits across France, Macron was hoping to raise awareness about the EU and France’s role in shaping it. Whether these events will go ahead in person will depend on the pandemic. The risk is that if forced to go online, they will go largely unnoticed and lose political impact.
 
Macron will also need the help of the other EU governments and institutions if he wants the EU to adopt key legislation before the first round of French elections. In the EU, France has a reputation of pushing its own interests onto the EU agenda, often at the expense of those of other EU countries. EU member states and the other EU institutions will not respond well if they see themselves being forced into agreement before the election campaign. They will only support Macron if he can reassure them that his EU interests will help deliver theirs. Similarly, his domestic pronouncements will be watched closely in the rest of Europe and he needs to ensure he does not sacrifice his European ambitions to shore up electoral support at home.
 
2022 is an important year for France in Europe. What happens in the next few months will determine not only France’s future, but also the EU’s.

 

Copyright: GONZALO FUENTES / POOL / AFP

 

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