19 January 2022

Marion Banide

The French Presidency of the Council of the European Union

European ambitions, national (domestic) challenges

The overlap between the French national electoral calendar and the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union may be seen as a challenge for current president Emmanuel Macron, it is also a political opportunity for him.

The French Presidency of the Council of the European Union stirs up public opinion in France, as the country is preparing to elect their new president in April. In a context of growing polarisation of the French society, it rekindles political tensions between Eurosceptic candidates (Marine Le Pen, Éric Zemmour, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, to name but a few) and Europhiles (Emmanuel Macron, Valérie Pécresse, Yannick Jadot, Christiane Taubira, Anne Hidalgo).

The PFEU puts Europe at the heart of the French presidential campaign, compelling those who ambition to take over the presidency to clarify their position in the matter.

The first Presidency in fourteen years

On 1st January in Paris, some of the capital’s emblematic monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and Notre Dame were decked out in blue to celebrate the start of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (FPEU).

France has not had the opportunity to fulfil this responsibility for fourteen years, the last French presidency being in 2008. From a political point of view, France will act as a mediator to build consensus between the 27 Member States. It will also represent the Council in its relations with the other European institutions (the European Commission and the European Parliament). France will take advantage of its presidency to bring to the fore the objectives it wants to set for Europe.

However, the national presidential elections in April 2022, followed by parliamentary elections two months, later raise uncertainty as to how much impetus the EUFP will be able to give to the European policy if there is ever a change of president mid-term. Will the French Presidency live up to expectations, or will the national political agenda get the better of President Macron’s European ambitions?

A moment of great political significance for President Macron

Europe has always occupied a prominent place in Emmanuel Macron’s political discourse. The French Presidency of the Council of the European Union gives Emmanuel Macron a unique opportunity to showcase his European credentials while consolidating his electoral base.

The European mandate thus becomes a strategic instrument of his national campaign ; a platform to reaffirm his vision of Europe. The FPEU enables him to go back to his fundamentals – the promotion of European sovereignty and his stance against nationalism – while outlining the key elements of his programme.

The re-election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France would strengthen his legitimacy for the EUFP. If he were not to be re-elected, the question would arise as to the continuity and strength of the commitments made by France as part of its European mandate. If there is a change of President in France, and if he or she is Eurosceptic, what will happen to the priorities established by Emmanuel Macron?

Finally, the telescoping of the two political events should not make the French president forget other highly-sensitive issues, particularly on the geopolitical level. According to our geopolitical expert Ed Kronenburg, the former Dutch ambassador to France and associate partner at Hague France Conseil:

Ed Kronenburg

"The agenda of the French EU presidency is very busy and ambitious, in a context of national elections. Yet, it does not take into account external developments that may change or impair the initial planning. Almost 14 years ago now, in 2008, the French EU Presidency had to deal with the war between Russia and Georgia. Let's hope that the current tensions between Russia and Ukraine subside and do not lead to a similar scenario as in 2008."

Do you wish to read more about the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union? Click here.

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19 January 2022

Marion Banide

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