French government reshuffle propels three new ministers into European arena

Christophe Castaner has been appointed Minister of the Interior. [@EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT]

France has new ministers for agriculture, culture and the interior after a government reshuffle. The new portfolio-holders will be at the forefront of reforms to the CAP, copyright law and the European asylum system. EURACTIV France reports.

Two weeks after the resignation of Interior Minister Gérard Collomb the long-awaited cabinet reshuffle has now taken place.

Unveiled on 16 October, the new French executive sees many ministries that are responsible for key European reforms change hands.

Collomb’s old job passes into the hands of the delegate-general of La République En Marche (LREM), Christophe Castaner.

Once State Secretary for Relations with parliament within the previous government and a pillar of LREM, Castaner has now been promoted in Édouard Phillipe’s new government.

A former socialist, he will have to quickly tackle the issue of immigration, which will appear on this week’s European Council in Brussels on 17 and 18 October.

Among the reforms required, the new minister will have to defend France’s position in the thorough review of the Dublin regulation. This regulation places the responsibility to receive refugees on the country of entry, laying a heavy responsibility on Mediterranean countries, especially Greece and Italy.

France-Italy tensions as ministers meet on immigration

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe urged far-right Italian leader Matteo Salvini on Monday (8 October) to drop his “posturing” on immigration and help find a European response to the issue.

The question of relations with Italy over the migration issue will also be a considerable project for Castaner. He has already repeatedly criticised the “closed port” policy implemented by the country’s far-right deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini.

Moreover, the question of sharing responsibility for receiving refugees – following the failure of the quota policy proposed by the European Commission – will also be on the new Minister of the Interior’s agenda.

On this matter, it is always the same Visegrad countries who refuse to accept a distribution mechanism and this matter is struggling to make process at the European level.

The issue of immigration has become the key focus of European populists in the run-up to the European elections in May 2019. However, it has also become Emmanuel Macron’s key topic, who would like to turn the election campaign into a confrontation between progressives and anti-Europeans.

With respect to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, senator Didier Guillaume – previously a supporter of former socialist prime minister Manuel Valls – has replaced Stéphane Travers at a pivotal moment for the future of European agriculture.

The new minister will have to pick up the thread of negotiations on the future of the common agricultural policy (CAP), of which France is the primary beneficiary.

Where are the e-tools to modernise the CAP?

The European Commission presented last June its proposals about the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In light of the rising global competition, analysts stress the need for a quicker adoption of new technologies in the sector, warning that otherwise the EU will be left behind.

This is a sensitive issue since the Commission has proposed reducing the budget dedicated to this policy, to Paris’ great displeasure.

This reduction of about 5% in the funds dedicated to the CAP for the period 2021-2027 is the subject of negotiations under the overall EU budget, which Brussels would like conclude before the European elections in May 2019.

Finally, the culture portfolio has gone to French MP Franck Riester. The leader of “Agir” (“Take action”) has broken away from his original party, Les Républicains, amid disagreements, particularly on the European question.

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Confronted with the shift towards populism and identity-based politics by the French right-wing, a handful of right-wing French MPs have launched Agir (“Take action”). However, there remains a question mark over the new party’s participation in the European elections against En Marche. EURACTIV France reports.

Riester is intending to launch his new party in the battle of the European elections. An alliance with LREM, which has been raised by some, could therefore emerge in the continuity of this appointment.

The portfolio of culture is now held by an expert in the field since Riester acted as a rapporteur to analyse two draft laws on online literary and artistic property in 2009.

Moreover, between 2009 and late 2015, he was a member of the Collège de l’Hadopi, the high authority for the dissemination of works and the protection of rights on the internet.

This career should be of use to the new minister in concluding negotiations on the copyright directive. The directive was approved by the European Parliament in September after a chaotic path and now must be subject to inter-institutional discussions in order to be definitively adopted.

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