Hollande and Valls divide EU affairs dossiers

The Elysée Palace in Paris, seat of the French President.

elysee_palace_paris_france_president_creditpaul_beattie_flickr.jpg [Paul Beattie/Flickr]

France has abolished the position of Advisor for European Affairs and reshuffled its agencies dealing with European affairs, moving some EU competences from the President’s office to the government. EURACTIV France reports

The French President’s Advisor on European Affairs, Philippe Leglise-Costa, left his position on 5 January. His departure, announced on 19 December, was confirmed on 3 January in an official press release.

Leglise-Costa, who had been President Hollande’s second in command in representing France to the European Union, will now take up the role of Secretary General for European Affairs (SGAE), integrating Manuel Valls’ government.

The change reflects the Prime Minister’s wish to “better involve the French government in European Affairs”. This reshuffle will give the head of government greater control over the ministries that deal with European affairs, which employ over 200 staff in the French capital.

Changes within the President’s office

Responsibility for European issues in the French Presidency will now be shared between several departments: the Economic Advisor, Laurence Boon, will take charge of financial questions, while bilateral relationships will fall to the Diplomatic Service, under the leadership of Jacques Audibert. Within this service, it is Sophie Martin-Lang, the former advisor to the French Permanent Representation to NATO, who will be responsible specifically for European affairs.

The outgoing advisor, known in Brussels for his technical abilities and extensive knowledge, will continue to prepare and participate in European Council meetings, thus remaining close to the French Presidency.

A Parisian source said “The organisation is the same in Germany: the Advisor on European Affairs does not deal with bilateral relations.” In practice, this reshuffle will distance Philippe Leglise-Costa from the European heads of state, beginning at the French-German summit this Sunday in Strasbourg, where François Holllande will be accompanied by Jacques Audibert and Laurence Boone.

>> Read: Hollande announces talks with Merkel on ‘the future of Europe’

Paris pursues greater influence

The handover of responsibility for European affairs to the government, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, comes at a time of weak French influence in the EU.

The number of French civil servants in the higher echelons of the European executive is greatly reduced, with only one French Cabinet Director, Olivier Bailly, who works for Pierre Moscovici, compared to four Germans in similar positions. France also only has two Deputy Cabinet Directors, in the Cabinets of the German and Lithuanian Commissioners, while Germany has five, Italy four and the United Kingdom three. But the French are well represented in the less prestigious ranks of press officers and communications advisors. “This is a failure, and it was all centrally managed, not very well, by the President’s office in Paris,” one disappointed French lobbyist said.

A source in the Commission said “the European question has been the responsibility of the French President for over two years, and it is important for the government to play its part once again”. After a period of institutional upheaval, with the European elections and the entry of the new Commission, France wants to reassert itself as a major force on the European stage, particularly in their priority areas such as the digital agenda, tax and the Juncker investment plan. 

Responsibility for French foreign policy and national defence resides with the President, who represents France at the European Council and in other relations with the European Union. 

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