When France last held the Presidency of the Council of the EU 14 years ago, Nicolas Sarkozy was President of the Republic, and the EU was bracing for an economic crisis the likes of which Europe had never seen before. As France takes over the Presidency of the Council of the EU for the first half of 2022, it once again must employ the crisis management tools expected from one of the EU’s most powerful members to tackle the ongoing health, energy and migration crises – in addition to the rising tensions on the EU’s eastern border.
For its Presidency, France’s President Emmanuel Macron has set out an ambitious agenda under the guiding principles of “recovery, power and belonging” which will focus on four key policy areas.
- Standing up to Big-Tech
- Climate Change
- Minimum Tax Rates
- The Future of Europe
Standing up to Big-Tech
France has been a staunch backer of the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA) proposals, which aim to impose stricter rules on tech competition in Europe and tackle the monopoly large multinationals hold in the digital sphere. With interinstitutional negotiations between the Council of the EU and the European Parliament on the DMA having started this week and those on the DSA expected to kick off in the coming weeks, it will be the French Presidency’s responsibility to shepherd the files through the final stages of the EU legislative process. Whether they will be able to succeed before the French elections in April, as is their goal, however, remains to be seen.
In July 2021, the European Commission proposed its “Fit for 55” climate and energy package to guide the EUs plan to cut CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030. With the Commission’s legislative proposals now under discussion between Member States, France intents to make considerable advancements on the multitudes of files to ensure they can be approved under the subsequent Czech Presidency in the second half of the year. On climate, Macron has urged Europe “not to waste a minute, because we must act with the utmost urgency.”
While files such as the controversial extension of the emissions trading scheme to cars and buildings, as well as the carbon border adjustment mechanism will require stronger political guidance, the French should be able to achieve significantly progress on its climate agenda.
The reform of global tax was endorsed at the OECD, G7 and G20 last year and France has long been a proponent of taxing technology firms and preventing the use of low tax rate to lure businesses to domestic markets.
In December, the European Commission announced that it would seek to implement the global minimum corporate tax agreement reached by the OECD, G7 and G20 under the French Presidency. While there are no outright objections to the fundamentals of the global agreement, a select number of Member States have previously warned of the EU implementing the changes ahead of its global competitors. In addition, the French Presidency will have to tackle a broad range of new tax initiatives on funding the EU’s budget.
Future of the EU
Perhaps the one objective most vulnerable to slogans and little action is France’s intention to use its Presidency to have a genuine impact on the future direction of the European Union.
It was Macron who initially suggested the idea of a discussion on the future of Europe, which officially became the Conference on the Future of Europe, and allowed hundreds of European to meet to discuss ideas and proposals for the bloc’s future. It is expected for the conference to conclude during the French Presidency in May, with Macron describing it as “the spark for reshaping momentum”.
France’s big challenge, however, is showing that such an exercise is not merely a taking shop, and can deliver tangible results guiding the future of the Union. While Treaty change is highly unlikely with an almost guaranteed Polish and Hungarian veto, France must be creative in its analysis and EU reform proposals. President Macron, meanwhile, urged citizens to not forget “that Europe is what made us.”