France takes over the presidency of the European Union in difficult circumstances

On Saturday, France assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union for six months with an ambitious program for a “strong” and “sovereignty” Europe, which could be affected by the wave of new infections from Covid-19 and the presidential elections of April. .

At midnight, France took over the presidency from Slovenia, which has chaired the European Council since 1 July, to transfer it to the Czech Republic in the second half of the year.

In a move that symbolizes this move, the Eiffel Tower and the Elysee Palace were illuminated in European blue.

The Council of the European Union represents the interests of the 27 member states before the European Commission and the Parliament. The quarterly presidency convenes ministerial meetings, sets the agenda and conducts negotiations.

Over the course of six months, France will have a lot of leverage to push some issues forward and reach agreements between member states, even if the process is disciplined and requires impartiality and cunning.

Olaf Schulz
Olaf Schulz

Berlin supports Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron has set a very high standard for the French presidency of the European Union.

On 9 December, he said, “Europe should once again be made strong in the world, with full sovereignty, free in its choices and mistress of its own destiny”.

Since his election in 2017, Macron has consistently emphasized these ambitions, which annoys some of his partners, especially in Eastern Europe.

Macron will not chair European Council summits or meetings, as this role belongs to Charles Michel, but he can make his contribution during the discussions and intervene in case of crisis.

Europe is at a crossroads on various issues, from the security of Europe with the mobilization of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers on the borders of Ukraine, to the health crisis that once again upsets the European economic horizon.

Macron can count on the support of the new German Social Democratic Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who will lead the G7 in 2022.

In her first New Year’s speech, Angela Merkel’s successor called for “a more sovereign and stronger Europe”. “Our French friends can count on our support,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Birbock in a note.

The German minister identified three priority projects during the French presidency: the adoption of a minimum wage in all European Union countries, the establishment of controls for the work of digital giants and the introduction of a carbon tax on imported products in Europe according to their impact on the environment.

Macron also calls for a better adaptation of thearea Schengen, the “protector of European borders”, in the face of waves of immigration, a theme at the center of the French electoral campaign.

Upcoming French elections

The French president also intends to propose a revision of the budget rules known as the Maastricht criteria, which control the deficits of European countries to finance investment and growth.

It will also raise the issue of strengthening European defense despite the reservations of some partners particularly interested in NATO’s protection.

It is the thirteenth time that France has held the rotating presidency of the European Union since 1958 and the first since 2008.

However, the French presidential elections in April and the legislative elections in June will influence the French presidency of the European Union and reduce the time available.

“Three months is a very short time,” said Claire Demismay, a researcher at the Marc Bloch Center in Berlin.

The rapid spread of the Omicron mutant from the Corona virus will affect the program of the French presidency of the European Union, which includes about 400 meetings or events in France, especially in January, when a large number of distance meetings will be held.

The opposition denounces Macron’s exploitation of the presidency of the European Union, in how likely he will stand for a second term, even if he hasn’t officially announced it yet.

“This could be a trump card for the French president by allowing him to reaffirm his European commitment to his electoral base, but also without risk” if his political opponents choose to attack him directly “on his European policy,” said Thierry Chopin. professor of political science at the Catholic University of Lille.

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