“Less stylistic effects and more humility”, or how to succeed in the French presidency of the EU

Thierry Chopin, professor of political science at the Catholic University of Lille (ESPOL) and special advisor at the Jacques Delors Institute, whochaired the think tank and proposals committee for the P **French residence of the Council of the European Union (PFUE),** looks back on the main challenges of this presidency.

During the press conference on Thursday, December 9, Emmanuel Macron presented France’s priorities for the Presidency of the Council of the EU. The files are ambitious, particularly on issues of economic sovereignty, European defense and immigration.

Finally, can France live up to its ambitions? Do we not risk being disappointed at the end of these six months of French presidency of the Council of the EU?

We must distinguish two temporal dimensions. The short-term dimension, which corresponds to the strict framework of the French presidency of the Council of the EU, and to which correspond a certain number of very precise legislative priorities that the president set out in his press conference. We think, for example, of the desire to complete the project on European minimum wages or on legislative projects on regulation of digital giants. On these subjects, it is possible that France will obtain results.

And we have to talk about medium and long-term issues. The French authorities can put new ideas, new proposals on the table, so as to enrich and move the lines of debate and of the European strategic agenda in a context of pandemic crisis, strong global geopolitical tensions, crisis environmental and energy, etc. All these issues, clearly, will not be resolved during the French presidency of the Council of the EU alone.

Nevertheless, I think it is important to stress that the objective of this presidency cannot be only to finalize technical and legislative files. It is also necessary to stimulate reflection on new subjects and to take advantage of the few months of this presidency to initiate medium / long term projects. France can help push a more structural agenda on a few more ambitious aspects. “

This presidency will also be punctuated by a major event for France: the presidential election next April. Do you consider this to be more of a boon or a burden for the French president?

I would be careful on this issue. First, it is not France which has chosen to exercise this presidency of the Council of the EU at the same time as the presidential election. The calendar had to change following Brexit.

Having said that, I believe that this coincidence of timing will have an impact both at national and European level. This presidency can be an opportunity for the President of the Republic, in the context of a presidential election, to reaffirm its very clearly displayed European bias. It is also an opportunity to try to obtain results that are both useful at European level and allowing him to enrich the results of his European five-year term, which he will have to defend if he is a candidate.

On the other hand, national political opposition to the President will seek to seize this window of opportunity to not only criticize his record given the very ambitious objectives he has posted since the start of his mandate but also to state another political discourse on France’s relationship to Europe. Personally, I consider that there is real material, at the end of this five-year term, to defend the President’s record on European issues.

Last November, you submitted a report to Clément Beaune, the Secretary of State for European Affairs. What is the main advice you gave to the government, in particular on the tone to be used in the context of this presidency?

This report contains a lot of thoughts and recommendations, both in the short term, but also in the medium / long term. He insists on the need for a coherent and positive discourse around the issues and concrete results that meet the major challenges facing the French and Europeans. Results that take into account the perceptions of public opinion and other member states :

  • make a success of the recovery in its economic and social dimension by also putting a common EU health policy on track
  • deepen European sovereignty and the EU’s capacity for action in geopolitical and technological matters
  • analyze the conditions for the possibility of an active identification of Europeans with the Union.

In addition, our report also includes considerations of method and approach as to the way in which we believe that our country should approach European issues with its partners.

In particular, we suggest that we collectively adopt a more humble, less overhanging attitude. Even if this position is useful in a difficult context, when it can lead France to show initiative, it can also be the object of criticism, arouse fears, even blockages and sometimes even generate forms of resentment. respect for our country, very often caricatured for its arrogance.

The presidency of the Council of the EU must make it possible to advance France’s European ambitions in a renewed way with less stylistic effect and more humility.

The report of reflection and proposals committee for the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union written by Thierry Chopin will be available in bookshops from January 18, 2022.

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