French President Emmanuel Macron gave an overview on Thursday (9 December) of the priorities France wants to pursue when it takes over the EU Council Presidency in the first half of 2022. Reforming the border-free Schengen area, pursuing more European defence and a new European model were among the priorities he outlined. EURACTIV France reports.
Starting on 1 January, the French EU Presidency will take place in the middle of “the health and climate crisis,” “growing global inequalities” but also in the face of “rising tensions” on the EU’s eastern border, Macron said in his opening remarks.
France’s EU Council presidency will also coincide with the French elections, scheduled on 10 and 24 April, and in which Macron will most likely be a candidate.
Asked about the risk of taking advantage of the EU Council presidency to promote his national campaign, Macron said Paris “did not choose the calendar” and that this was “the fruit of the implementation of Brexit”. “We have to play our part with a spirit of responsibility,” he added.
The first objective of the French presidency will be to “move from a Europe of cooperation within our borders to a powerful Europe in the world, fully sovereign, free to make its own choices and master of its own destiny,” the head of state also said.
In his speech, Macron said he wanted to have better “control” of Europe’s borders, which he said was an “indispensable condition” for taking up the challenge of migration, facing up to “hybrid” wars and avoiding “human dramas”. In this vein, he called for a reform of the Schengen border-free area based on the model of the Eurozone, with the establishment of a political steering committee and regular meetings between ministers.
France will also defend the creation of an “emergency border support mechanism” in cooperation with the EU border agency, Frontex, which would allow the rapid deployment of law enforcement and equipment at the borders in case of need.
“The reactions are too late. The mechanisms are being put in place in a way that is too specific,” the French leader added.
The president also said he was keen to “move the European migration package forward” by continuing to work with countries of origin and transit, but also by harmonising the rules for accompanying migrants and those governing secondary flows.
Macron’s foreign policy ambitions especially concern Europe’s defence.
He recalled for “considerable progress” in this area, citing, in particular, the launch of a European Defence Fund in 2017. Now, this needs to “enter a more operational phase” and make the EU Council presidency a “moment to define the Strategic Compass”.
Africa and the Western Balkans
France should also take “structural initiatives” towards Africa and the Western Balkans, the French president continued.
“The link between [Africa and Europe] is the great political and geopolitical project of the decades to come,” said Macron, showing his desire to launch a new economic and financial New Deal with the continent.
On the Western Balkans, Macron insisted on the “very special responsibility” towards these countries in terms of protecting minorities and fighting interference. He also said he wanted to “clarify their European prospects”.
A new European model
More broadly, Macron called for “imagining a new European model” – an ambition that should be at the heart of the EU Council presidency summit that is set to take place in March.
According to the French president, job creation and the fight against mass unemployment should be an “obsession” for the EU. It is also about creating “the right jobs”, he added.
The EU’s minimum wage and wage transparency directives – of which the ultimate goals are to end the wage gap between women and men – will thus be at the heart of the French presidency.
Macron also called for an industrial revival in key sectors such as hydrogen, batteries, semiconductors, cloud, defence, health and culture.
“We must guarantee Europe’s position and its strength in defining the standards of tomorrow”, said Macron. “Action at the state level is not the right scale,” he also said, adding that France will seek to “promote European purchasing,” he added.
Macron also announced that several European investment plans and new industrial alliances would be launched by March.
According to the president, this new model will also require adapted budgetary and financial rules. He called for the completion of a credible, simplified and transparent framework, and particularly a union of banking and capital in Europe.
While the fight against climate change is not featured among the French presidency’s priorities, the new European growth model that Macron intends to promote fully integrates environmental ambitions.
To achieve the EU’s objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, Macron said the presidency will “not waste a minute” in pushing the texts forward.
France’s leader also promised that the carbon adjustment mechanism will be adopted in the next few months in order to “preserve our competitiveness”.
The so-called “mirror clauses” which will ensure “coherence” between trade policy and climate and biodiversity preservation policy, as well as a European instrument to combat imported deforestation, will also see the light of day, he added.
On the digital front, France hopes to see the successful conclusion of the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA).
“When we know how to organise ourselves, we create standards on an international scale,” said the French president in reference to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The head of state also reaffirmed his desire to make increasingly strong players emerge while supporting innovation and growth – a strategy “that has shown its effectiveness”, he said.
Macron called on the bloc – which already has “technological dependencies ” – to “act as Europeans” so that it can catch up with its competitors. Paying special attention to talent and setting up an “integrated digital market” to attract funding and help tech companies so they do not have to look elsewhere for money will also be key, he added.
A more ‘humane Europe’
In his speech, Macron said he wanted to take advantage of the presidency to renew the EU’s “humanist vocation” by making it “more effective” and “closer to our citizens”.
The Conference on the Future of Europe coming to a close in May should, according to him, mark the “start of this refounding momentum”.
France’s head of state also expressed his desire to find “new instruments to help bring our democratic freedom to life” and work a great deal on Europe’s history in the light of the “revisionism” that is taking place in some parts of Europe.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]