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From Big Talk To Bold Action

The areas in which the French presidency lived up to its own expectations the most, but also those of its European partners and the wider community, remain to be seen. Indeed, many things were served on the presidency’s plate, each of which was deemed as being of outmost importance to the future of Europe

The French presidency of the Council of the European Union has just ended, leaving us to ponder its effects. The six-month rotating role is usually one of highly concerted activity with other EU members, and not just those holding the presidency together in groups of three – in this case France, Czechia and Sweden. The Presidency of the Council involves a highly structured set of steps that are set in advance and planned thoroughly, in this case being established and premediated in 2019. Yet there is always space for members to convey their own priorities and respond to new challenges. Larger and older members dare to have a political vision for Europe.

In this respect, this latest French Presidency arrived during times when a vision of Europe was in high demand. At the beginning of 2022, the EU had already been hit hard by the pandemic, and was preparing to adapt swiftly to the global changes, energy crisis, disruption to global value chains and inflation, followed and further exacerbated by the Ukraine war. By the same token, France was preparing for a major political event in the form of April’s presidential election, followed by June’s legislative elections. President Emmanuel Macron focused strongly on the French Presidency of the Council, or more precisely on his vision for Europe, as an election ticket, which was first communicated in his 2017 speech at the Sorbonne.

Each Presidency is responsible for planning and chairing numerous events, including both formal and informal meetings in Brussels, representing the Council in relations with other EU institutions, in particular the Commission and the Parliament, and above all assuring that legislative work is undertaken in a timely and efficient manner. In the case of France, this highly technical but also politically charged task was wrapped up in three messages: a more sovereign Europe, a new European growth model, and a humane Europe aimed at leaving a strong political mark on the development of the Union.

The French agenda was packed with important topics, such the economic adjustment to technological, climatic and geo-economic challenges, the acceleration of climate and digital transitions, and security and defence

The setup of the Presidency provides the possibility for such action: the country that holds the presidency plays a major role in the preparation of European Council meetings, giving it an exceptional opportunity to involve itself in major diplomacy efforts or those related to top security issues through the Political and Security Committee, which it chairs.

Indeed, all three aspects came to the fore during the last six months. The French Presidency conveyed the message that Europe has to be understood as being fully sovereign, free to make its own choices and master its destiny in many areas, including economic self-sufficiency and particularly in domains of complex technologies, in terms of security and defence, and environmental protection.

Somewhat cynically, the current unprecedented energy crisis has prompted many to hark back to the beginnings of the EU, which arose on the pooling of coal and steel, as inspiration for a fresh start. And yet, one has to bear in mind that today’s global circumstances are very different and certainly much more complex, thus making it harder to draw conclusions on the effects of the French presidency.

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