French presidency of the EU: how Paris can revive its influence in Europe



Thirteen years since that hadn’t happened. France will ensure from 1er January and until June 30, 2022 the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). Emmanuel Macron could have chosen to skip his turn, so as not to telescope this agenda with that of the presidential election. But the one who had chosen in 2017 to celebrate his victory to the sound of the European anthem preferred to see it as a favorable coincidence.

→ ANALYSIS. The almost candidate Macron launches his European presidency

In the early days of the EEC, when it had only six members, France assumed the function every three years. Today, she must let the 26 other capitals take their turn. Paris, which will have control of the agenda of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2022, will have to wait until 2035 before this burden returns to it again. And to obtain progress, Emmanuel Macron actually only has a small quarter, before the presidential election forces him to reserve.

Envied resources

Thierry Chopin, special advisor at the Jacques-Delors Institute, chaired an independent think tank on how France should approach the exercise. According to him, Paris will have no institutional advantage over another Member State. But he insists on the specificities of our country. “Because of its demographic and political weight, its status as a founding country, its powerful administration, Paris has a good capacity to push for legislative and technical priorities”, he emphasizes.

France, which is in its thirteenth presidency, undeniably has more experience than Romania or Croatia, which had their first experience in 2019 and 2020. And France has envied resources, underlines Olivier Costa, specialist in institutions Europeans at the Center Émile-Durkheim.

“When Luxembourg takes office, even as a founding country, it must rely on the staff of the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU, there is necessarily something that escapes it. France does not need it, which makes a big difference in the handling of the agenda ”, he explains.

The lights are green

The strength of a presidency also depends on the political configuration of the moment. “It remains effective provided that no one comes to torpedo its work”, summarizes Olivier Costa. In this regard, the lights are rather green for Emmanuel Macron. His main interlocutor, the President of the European Council Charles Michel (a French-speaking Belgian) is from the same liberal political family.

The latter, like the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, owes her post in part to the President of the Republic, who also maintains good relations with the President of the ECB, Christine Lagarde.

→ READ. Emmanuel Macron and Ursula von der Leyen, a tandem for Europe?

Paris finally has a solid network in the European Parliament. The Renew Europe group has established itself as a pivotal force between the European People’s Party (right) and S & D (social democrats). A macronist from the first circle, Stéphane Séjourné, has just taken the lead. All the pawns are therefore in place.

The British, having left the European game, can no longer play the obstacle to going around in circles. The Germany of Social Democratic Chancellor Olaf Scholz expects a lot from the conference on the future of Europe, which is due to deliver its conclusions in May. And Paris has just come closer to Rome, with the Quirinal Treaty.

A gradual loss of influence

This is enough to compensate for a loss of influence. Over the course of the enlargements, the decline of the French language has indeed been confirmed. In 1999, 34% of Commission documents were initially in French. Twenty years later, that proportion has dropped to 3.7%.

“The French tend to maximize their importance”, notes Emmanuel Rivière, president of the Kantar center on the future of Europe. However, a survey for the German Marshall Fund, unveiled this summer, invites modesty (1). Our partners give less and less credit to the voice of France. Only a narrow minority (7%) consider in the countries surveyed that France is the most influential country in Europe. A year earlier, it was ten points higher. Now Germany (60%) is leading the way.

Since 2008, the rotating EU presidency has also lost its substance. Thirteen years ago, Nicolas Sarkozy was the last French to lead European summits as President of the European Council. After him, the Treaty of Lisbon established a function of full President of the Council, held today by Charles Michel.

“At the time, Nicolas Sarkozy provided important mediation for a ceasefire in Georgia. It’s something that Emmanuel Macron could no longer do today ”, comments Christian Lequesne, professor at Sciences Po.

Overhanging position

France’s willingness to exercise some form of leadership is nevertheless expected in Europe. “His ability to take initiatives is recognized”, confirms Thierry Chopin. “But it can also be the object of criticism, even of suspicion, and cause blockages when its slightly overhanging position generates a form of resentment”, he warns.

→ DECRYPTION. The challenges of the French presidency of the EU

Emmanuel Macron’s Jupiterian tone and his taste for great inspired speeches do not help. In practice, however, the French president was keen to establish a dialogue with everyone. On Monday, December 13, the tenant of the Élysée Palace honored his promise to visit all EU member countries during his mandate.

He traveled to Budapest, which was the last missing capital, to meet Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, leader of the “Nationalists” Eurosceptics, the best enemy on the European political scene and also a candidate for his re-election in April.

“The logic of“ confessional ”in bilateral with other countries is essential, to inspire confidence. During the French presidency of 2000, under the Chirac-Jospin tandem, Paris was criticized for only dealing with three or four major capitals ”, recalls Olivier Costa.

“Make less of Victor Hugo, more of Robert Schuman”

Maintaining the link is not enough. It is still necessary to be precise in the exchanges. However, France would tend to defend major principles without delivering the implications, believes Thierry Chopin. “This is what we have summarized in our report by the formula ‘do less Victor Hugo, more Robert Schuman” “.

→ ANALYSIS. Emmanuel Macron’s very ambitious program for Europe

In other words, for the group of researchers, our partners expect France to put its lyrical breath on hold, and to demonstrate that it can contribute to the European project through concrete initiatives.

Thierry Chopin takes for example the concept of“Strategic autonomy” : “There is a need to remove the ambiguity and show that the project aimed at breaking external European dependencies vis-à-vis certain powers (United States, China) must not lead to a new transfer of dependence , internal this time, and in particular vis-à-vis France. “

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A calendar disrupted by the elections in France

♦ January 6-7. Emmanuel Macron receives the European Commission in Paris, chaired by Ursula von der Leyen and which has a total of 27 commissioners.

♦ January 19. Speech by the French President to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

♦ February 11. International summit on the oceans in Brest.

♦ February 17-18. EU-African Union summit in Brussels.

♦ March 24-25. Summit of Heads of State and Government, dedicated to the European “new growth and investment model”.

♦ April 10 and 24. Presidential election in France.

♦ May. Closing ceremony of the conference on the future of Europe (date not yet specified).

♦ June 12 and 19. Legislative elections in France.

♦ June 23-24. Summit of Heads of State and Government in Brussels.

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