Overall, the French Presidency of the Council of the EU was a success… but not everyone agrees – CEPS
The assessment of the semester of the French presidency of the Council is mostly positive. She negotiated a record 130 agreements and played a key role in the EU’s response to the war in Ukraine. EU leaders were full of praise. France delivered – and delivered well.
However, not everyone agrees. Some EU capitals resent France for trying to cover too much in too little time – meetings have become longer and more frequent, and France’s ambition has sometimes been a source of irritation . For others, President Macron’s comments on the war in Ukraine were particularly problematic.
Despite the war, France achieves many of its objectives
The French presidency was ambitious and included more than 60 priorities, covering everything from climate and digital to defense cooperation. It’s not a total surprise. Over the past five years, the French government has worked tirelessly to implement Macron’s “Sorbonne Agenda 2017”, designed to make the EU a more powerful, more sovereign and a more capable actor.
France inherited 350 legislative dossiers at the start of its presidency of the Council. He managed to get the 27 EU governments to accept more than 100 legislative proposals and helped to conclude 30 trilogue agreements with the European Commission and the European Parliament – in comparison, the Portuguese Presidency of 2020 concluded 23 agreements and 78 trilogues.
Some key legislative victories include guiding legislation on a national minimum wage and equal wages; an agreement on the carbon border adjustment mechanism; new legislation to better regulate digital services and ensure fair competition in the digital market; and some progress on the asylum and immigration pact.
On Ukraine, France has helped the EU to react quickly and effectively, particularly on the sanctions against Russia and Belarus. Paris helped coordinate the EU response to resettle Ukrainian refugees. It also got member states to agree to change Eurojust’s mandate, allowing it to send officers to Ukraine to investigate alleged Russian war crimes.
France supported the work of the High Representative in delivering the strategic compass, the EU’s latest white paper on defence. Macron has also advanced the idea of a European political community to bring EU countries and non-EU neighbors together to discuss EU-wide issues. Although initially rejected, EU member states, as well as countries like Ukraine, Moldova and those in the Western Balkans, now seem more open to exploring the idea.
To prepare is to succeed
The success of a presidency is of course a team effort – it depends on the work of previous presidencies and the sympathy of EU institutions and Member States towards what the holder of the presidency hopes to achieve .
To gain their support, France launched an extensive awareness-raising campaign in the two years preceding its presidency among member state governments, EU institutions and French civil society. Overall it paid off.
By the time France took the reins, its views on EU sovereignty had become more readily accepted. It gained ground during the pandemic and is now widely associated with defence, but also with energy, food and the need to invest more in key European industries.
The notion of the EU as a defense power also saw the first-ever case of direct EU military assistance to a third country under the European Peace Facility. The question was no longer whether the EU should act, but How? ‘Or’ What – and many in Paris believe it would not have been possible without a strong French push.
Not all feedback is positive
But France’s ambition was also the source of much irritation. Some felt France was trying to pack too much into his six months. Instead of readjusting the workload to deal with the war in Ukraine, France simply added more meetings. Although it has a large bureaucracy to manage this, many smaller member states do not and struggle to keep up.
France also struggled to shake off suspicions that it was using the presidency for electoral purposes. For example, some capitals felt rushed and pressured to pass digital services legislation ahead of the start of the French presidential campaign. Others even criticized France for securing easy victories, while shelving tough decisions, such as overhauling the EU’s emissions trading system and fairer burden-sharing for the relocation of migrants in the EU. These decisions were left to the Czech Presidency. France has also made no progress on EU trade deals.
Others pointed to France’s inability to get member states to change their minds. Hungary is still delaying the EU’s adoption of the OECD proposal for an overall minimum corporate tax rate of 15% (even though Hungary has signed the OECD agreement). France also failed to get Bulgaria to completely lift its veto on membership talks with North Macedonia, which sparked riots in Skopje.
But it is perhaps France’s actions towards Ukraine that have drawn the most criticism. President Macron’s comments, including the need not to humiliate Russia in the long term, as well as his appeals and visits to Moscow, have seriously damaged France’s reputation, especially in Eastern Europe. To some extent, these criticisms overshadowed the achievements of the French presidency.
France’s work is not yet finished
The reality is that France has kept many of its promises. She succeeded in getting EU member states and institutions to accept more than 100 new pieces of legislation and despite criticism, France played a key role in the EU’s response to Ukraine. It laid a solid foundation for achieving greater EU sovereignty inside the EU. It is now up to the Czech Presidency to continue this work.
But France’s work is far from over. Many French voters believe that France has little or no influence within the EU. Paris will have to redouble its efforts to communicate to its inhabitants what it is doing and how it plans to change Europe for the better.
At the same time, France will have to reassure its EU partners that it does not seek to dominate Europe but that it wants to work with its partners and is ready to compromise. This will be essential if Macron is to fulfill and implement the rest of his sovereignty program over the next five years.