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18th Jan 2020

France says it has no preferred EU president candidate

Paris is not officially supporting anybody for the post of EU president, French EU affairs minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet has said, while describing France's ideal candidate for the top job.

"Any choice now would be premature […] We will see when the time comes, and not before the end of the year," Mr Jouyet said during a debate organised by Brussels-based think-tank The Centre on Tuesday (26 February).

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  • "There is no Mediterranean Union," says Mr Jouyet (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Nonetheless, France would like the person occupying this post to be "a personality who has charisma, experience, and enough drive to energise the work of the European Council," Mr Jouyet underlined.

He stopped short of pointing to specific individuals, however.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who last October first mentioned former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Luxembourg's premier, Jean-Claude Juncker, as possible candidates for president of the European Council – representing member states at EU leader level - is seen as backing Mr Blair for the job.

But his views are not shared by everyone.

"Having [personal] affinities is one thing, having candidacies [for the post] is another," Mr Jouyet said.

For some, it is unacceptable that a national of a country that is not part of core EU projects such as the eurozone and Schengen – the EU's borderless zone – could represent Europe. The UK take part in neither of these areas.

"It is clear that having a solidarity – be it in a monetary framework [with the euro] or in a legal one, with Schengen, " would not be detrimental to any personality willing to preside over the EU, "regardless how strong this personality may be," France's EU minister said without explicitly mentioning Mr Blair.

But Mr Jouyet had already spoken against the former prime minister's candidacy. He was quoted as saying earlier this month that while Mr Blair had indisputable leadership qualities, he does not "meet all the criteria" required for the job.

The post of president of the European Council is set to be a high-profile job, which can be held for up to five years. It is enshrined in the EU's Lisbon treaty, expected to come into force next year.

A Union for the Mediterranean, not a Mediterranean Union

During the one-hour debate, Mr Jouyet also indicated a certain change in France's plans to create a Mediterranean Union.

"There is no Mediterranean Union", the minister said, specifying that one should now speak of a "Union for the Mediterranean" which is a "semantic shift that is not neutral."

The French idea of a Mediterranean Union involving a union of EU and non-EU Mediterranean states, has been particularly criticised in Germany, which fears it will be detrimental to the already existing EU policies in the area.

Earlier this week, a postponement of a Franco-German meeting initially planned for 3 March prompted speculation that disagreement over this specific project was the cause.

Mr Jouyet tried to reassure opponents of the project during Tuesday's debate.

The proposed Union for the Mediterranean is only about "completing and enriching" the already existing policies, as the Mediterranean is an important EU border, he said.

"For my part, I am optimistic that we will find together with our partners, in particular with our German friends, an agreement on the modalities [of the project]," he added.

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