Briefing from Brussels – the priorities of the French Presidency

By Will Parker, Director of Public Affairs, SEC Newgate EU

The end of the Merkel era and the Presidential elections in France were seen as a period of uncertainty for the EU. Who would lead the EU with issues like Russia and China pressing the EU? One part of the answer can be found in President Macron’s speech and outlining of the priorities of his Presidency, that show a wish list of EU policies to combat some of these geopolitical concerns. The French President has always shown a clear desire to be a leader of Europe, his Presidency will see him, and his government try and push that blueprint.

The French Presidency of the EU “Recovery, power, belonging”

Overview

The priorities of the French Presidency are numerous and reflect President Macron and his government’s feeling that the EU needs to step up. This is not just in terms of regulating big tech, as mentioned below, but also in the geopolitical sphere. The French have been pushing the idea of strategic autonomy for many months, but in President’s Macron’s speech we can see a set of concrete ideas to push this forward to assert Europe’s place in the world. However, as the President has one eye on his re-election, the theme of securing borders comes through strongly; clearly a hint that he is aware of the need to seem tough on immigration.

A Coordinated Response on Migration and a Reform of Schengen

• A reform of Schengen based on the model of the Eurozone, with the establishment of a political steering committee and regular meetings between ministers.

• An emergency reaction capability to help EU states facing crises at their borders. This emergency mechanism would rely on the support of Frontex and reinforcements from national law enforcement agencies when needed.

• Structural initiatives towards Africa and the Western Balkans, and ‘clarify their European prospects’.

• EU-Africa Summit in February in Brussels to promote building a future for African youth to reduce inequalities and fight against human trafficking.

A Joint EU Defence Capacity to ensure EU’s Sovereignty

• The creation of the first common military budget for defence (8billion euros) and a European Intervention Initiative for a common strategic culture.

• European cooperation to fight terrorism in the Sahel, including Franco-German cooperation on aerial combat.

• EU legislation to withdraw terrorist content within 1hour of its report.

• A fully operational European civil protection force.

• A European funding and equipment procurement capacity, ‘RescEU’, to help member states respond to transport and logistics emergencies.

• An Intelligence College in Europe to train future intelligence officers.

• Strategic Compass to be achieved/defined at EU Summit in March 2022, to define common EU threats, plan common defence exercises and partnerships, and to prepare a common EU strategy ahead of NATO’s June Summit in Madrid.

EU’s Digital Transformation as top priority

• DSA and DMA as priorities – ‘Europe needs to define its own digital rules’.

• Fight hate speech on social media – work towards an unprecedented regulation of social media platforms that will establish liability for hate-filled content.

Rethink EU’s strict Budget Deficit Rules

• France to push for deficits to remain below 3% of GDP as government are faced with heavy spending to save their economies from the impact of COVID-19 restrictions.

Climate Priorities

• New EU mechanism to prevent imports of agricultural products from deforested areas. This will result in banning imports to the EU of soya, beef, palm oil, cocoa and coffee when they have contributed to deforestation.

• Implementing the carbon adjustment mechanism.

• « Mirror clauses » to ensure coherence between trade policy and climate and biodiversity preservation policy will also see the light of day

Defending Europe’s Social Model & promoting a new European Growth Model

• EU’s minimum wage and wage transparency at the heart of PFEU – to end wage gap between women and men.

• Industry revival in key sectors – hydrogen, batteries, semiconductors, cloud, defence, health and culture.

• Exceptional summit around a new ‘European growth and investment model’ to be held in France on March 10 and 11, 2022.

• Creation of a 6-months ‘European civic service’ for all young people under 25.