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22nd Jan 2022

Opinion

How to 'Europeanise' the upcoming French EU presidency?

  • There are at least two main misconceptions to rectify if Emmanuel Macron wants to make strategic autonomy a success (Photo: Helena Malikova)
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The upcoming French presidency of the EU Council will most likely be perturbed by the presidential elections scheduled for April 2022, during which Emmanuel Macron will want to show his ability to protect the French national interests also in the EU context.

The tendency to put a European flag on French goals, however, is not a new phenomenon. This is why one of the key issues for the upcoming leadership of the Union is how to Europeanise the French presidency – meaning, how to make sure that European priorities and solutions put forth by the French Presidency respond to wider European, and not merely French, interests and views.

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In the meantime, reinforcing the Franco-German alliance will also be on the table since Germany is getting ready to send its new leader to the European Council. This time, however, the usual suspects should look for more inclusive alliances.

There are three areas where this is going to be extremely important: defining what "strategic autonomy" should practically entail; the execution of the recovery fund; and converting the results of the Conference on the Future of Europe into something tangible.

A collective plan for strategic autonomy

France has led the political discourse and initiative on European sovereignty and its corollary, strategic autonomy. It is now planning to give substance to it during its semester of the Council presidency through, among others, the presentation of the Strategic Compass and the organisation of a defence summit with the European Commission.

However, there are at least two main misconceptions to rectify if France wants to make strategic autonomy a success.

First in terms of its vision, which has been divisive rather than cohesive so far. Making strategic autonomy acceptable at EU level requires that it is conceived as an instrument to reinforce European sovereignty with France's key contribution, not to fulfil France's sovereign ambitions through Europe.

The second misconception relates to the method.

Making strategic autonomy work means going well beyond the Franco-German couple. In fact, the Franco-German engine is simply not powerful enough, even with the support of the European Commission, to sustain by itself a fully autonomous European foreign and security policy, both in political terms and in that of resources.

France and Germany need the contribution of other key member states, starting by those that are willing and able, in order to reconcile their positions and create a driving group to transform declarations into actions.

Squaring the circle between stability, growth and investments

One year after the establishment of the NextGenerationEU in response to the Covid-19 crisis, the Union needs to guarantee its effective implementation as well as to think ahead on economic governance.

One task for the French presidency will be to find the right way of handling the rule-of-law mechanism enshrined in the EU budget (or Multiannual Financial Framework). Establishing a sustainable link between rule of law and EU funds would be an investment for the future.

A second task is to tackle the question of how to guarantee stability and growth within the EU, while at the same time fostering investments.

There might hence be room for manoeuvre for Macron, who has been advocating European budgetary integration and debt mutualisation in the past years.

Having said that, there are still the so-called 'frugals' to convince – and Italy might be a partner in crime to do so. Before jumping the gun, however, the French presidency should focus on closely monitoring and overseeing the implementation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plans in order to assess the effects that the NGEU can have.

The Conference on the Future of Europe must go on

Another area where more selfless contribution of France is needed is the Conference on the Future of Europe. Being mostly the father of the exercise, Emmanuel Macron is hoping to harvest its results before the French presidential election.

There is a danger to it. Taking into consideration all the changes the Union is going through and what it is up to, collective thinking about its future should be more than an electoral pledge. This is why the Conference should bear results – and they should be concrete and tangible.

All in all, the French presidency should open the way for the continuation of the conference, while guaranteeing that its results will be converted into tangible actions through an explicit commitment at EU level. The conference should be perceived as a step towards creating a common future.

Author bio

Ilke Toygür is a European affairs analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute and CATS Fellow at German Institute for International and Security Studies. Nicoletta Pirozzi is head of the EU, politics and institutions programme at the Institute of International Affairs in Rome. Funda Tekin is director of the the Institute for European Politics in Berlin.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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