‘Too many priorities kill the priorities?’ France’s many ambitions for its 2022 EU presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron at the end of a two-day European summit at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, June 25, 2021. [JOHN THYS/EPA]

With France set to take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in January 2022, the list of issues the government wants to tackle for the occasion seems never-ending.

“The number of ongoing and future projects we want to contribute to is a reflection of our ambitions for Europe,” MEP Valerie Hayer (Renew) said after the parliamentary group’s work seminar in Paris last week, where she and her fellow lawmakers were received by President Emmanuel Macron.

“Above all, it is proof of our greater willingness than previous presidencies,” she told EURACTIV.

“The president put at the heart of his speech strategic autonomy, the need for the Union to have its own capacities to act and to make people act,” Hayer said, pointing out that this also includes defence, health, industry, as well as the regulation of digital giants and “of course, the green deal”.

To this, an entire list can be added:

The desire to advance the directive on the minimum wage in Europe, recalled by Prime Minister Jean Castex in front of the ambassadors of France on August 31, Macron’s promise to “carry a strong initiative for an accelerated exit from pesticides”, the promotion of multilingualism, the priority for the tightening of the control of agricultural imports from the EU 27, or the commitment of the Minister of Health Olivier Véran to put the subject of rare diseases on the agenda.

Whether it is a question of real commitments or excessive use of the word “priority”, there is a risk that the results of the French presidency of the EU may appear paler than the government would have us want.

“Too many priorities kill priorities,” declared Sébastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors Institute. Nevertheless, “the first role” of a rotating EU Council presidency is precisely to prioritise and define the agenda, he told EURACTIV.

“What really conditions the real priorities are the circumstances,” Maillard stressed, recalling France’s previous EU presidency in 2008, which was consumed by the financial crisis.

“We must not forget either that it is not a question of completing our great work of profound reform of Europe in six months. Some of these priorities will have to lead to the closure of files, to final political agreements that have sometimes taken too long to reach,” added Hayer.

“After the FPEU, there will still be two years of mandate left for European legislators, let’s not forget that. Our work to reform Europe will not stop after June 30, 2022,” she added, noting that President Macron took the opportunity of last week’s meeting to remind the legislators of the Renew group of their “central place” in the European Parliament.

Macron to push for pesticide phase-out during EU presidency stint

France will push for “an accelerated phase-out of pesticides” at the EU level when it takes on the rotating EU Council Presidency in January 2022, President Emmanuel Macron told the World Conservation Congress which opened in Marseille this week

A political weight to be nuanced

Maillard also explained that the political weight of a rotating presidency is actually rather limited since it involves presiding over only one of the institutions of the European apparatus.

“It is obvious that when the presidency goes to a large country, a founding member, it is an opportunity to give an impetus that other countries could not,” he said.

The point of the rotating presidency may therefore lie elsewhere.

“If we have kept this system after the Lisbon Treaty, it is not only to make the Council of Ministers work in turn, but also so that each country can reappropriate the European project,” explained Maillard, a former journalist specialising in European affairs.

The context will be particular, however, with the French presidential elections taking place in the middle of the first half of 2022, during the presidency.

“In practice, it will be a quarterly presidency, not a half-yearly one,” Maillard pointed out.

Renew’s Hayer was happy at the prospect of next year’s election.

“This will allow us to strengthen the European dimension of the presidential debate,” she said, explaining that she “can’t imagine for a second that the debate will sidestep France’s current continental responsibilities when it comes to testing the candidates on their vision for Europe.”

A final uncertainty that might tarnish the French EU presidency, according to Maillard, is the outcome of the German elections on 26 September, especially if coalition-building talks there drag on, as Paris will be in dire need of a stable and reliable partner in the Council in January.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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