You are here

France’s EU Council Presidency and the Rocky Road Ahead

Ms Anandita Bhada is a Research Analyst at MP-IDSA, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • January 25, 2022

    France assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) on 1 January 2022 after 14 years. The Council is the legislative arm of the EU which is entrusted with the role to approve, reject or amend its policy matters. It comprises the executives of the 27 member nations of the EU, headed by the president. Each meeting deals with a specific policy matter and is attended only by those ministers in charge of that policy matter in their respective nations.

    Europe’s executives have a range of issues to deal with, starting from climate change, energy crisis, the pandemic and European security issues concerning Ukraine, Poland and Baltics. This is the rationale behind the presidency’s agenda, which has been rightfully flagged by Macron at different intervals. Making EU more sovereign, developing a European model of growth, furthering the green agenda, promoting EU as a stabilising power in the Indo-Pacific, deepening ties with the African Union and reorganising the Schengen area are a few targets that Paris wishes to achieve during the presidential tenure.

    Priority Areas

    The motto of the Presidency is “Recovery, Power and a Sense of Belonging”.1 The challenges faced by Europe are not new but France’s perch at the helm of the Council have raised Europe’s expectations that several of its woes are going to be heard and addressed. Macron has laid out a deeply ambitious agenda, focusing on the pillars of European sovereignty and strategic autonomy.2 To strengthen sovereignty, the EU Strategic Compass would be adopted by March 2022. It offers policy considerations to strengthen defence and security measures of the EU in the areas of capability development, resilience and crisis management.

    On the economic front, Paris has envisioned a European model for growth3 which should align economic development with the climate goals in order to be sustainable. It wants to enforce the European Green Deal, as announced by the President last December. Macron aims to achieve a 55 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and initiate regulations supporting deforestation-free products. One of the possible solutions is to impose a carbon tax on imported products and switch to cleaner energy sources within the EU. 

    On the international stage, Macron has laid bare the need for the EU to stop seeing Africa and Mediterranean as a threat and start recognising their strategic advantages.4 Conferences scheduled on Western Balkans, EU–African Union summit and a ministerial forum on the Indo-Pacific reflect the importance Paris attaches to it.

    These priorities are inspired by the endeavours of preceding Slovenian Presidency and co-developed with the efforts of future presidencies of the Czech Republic and Sweden.5

    Potential Challenges

    The French Presidency comes against the backdrop of an ongoing energy crisis knocking on the EU doors since last October. Europe imports 55.6 per cent6 of its total energy from Russia and it cannot afford to upset the latter beyond a certain point. It will have to link self-reliance and ecological sustainability with economic development to beat this crisis.7 Russia has denied any accusations of limiting gas supply to Europe. In fact, it wanted to increase the supply through the inauguration of Nord Stream 2 (NS 2), which is a contentious issue within the EU.

    Proponents of NS 2 feel that it will bring down the fuel prices across Europe and provide impetus to the energy-consuming industries. On the other hand, the opponents consider it as a short-term expensive solution, which will increase the European dependence on Russia. France has always supported the use of nuclear energy as an alternative fuel. In fact, 70 per cent of its power industry runs on nuclear energy.8 Its efforts to include the same as a part of the EU taxonomy (EU’s green energy list) might finally bear fruit. 

    France will have to resolve this crisis amidst Russia–Ukraine border tensions; Russia has amassed more than 1,06,000 troops at the Ukrainian border.9 The EU has come out in support of Ukraine, threatening to impose harsh sanctions on Russia if it does not deter. NATO has reacted to this security situation at European borders by alerting its troops for a possible attack. The movement among NATO troops is making Russia suspicious of the former's eastward expansion, threatening Russian borders and national security. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has demanded “iron-clad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees”10 against any such expansion of either NATO or the EU. NATO has always followed the open door policy and its leaders have refused to make any amendments to that. Holding constructive talks to resolve this will be a challenge for France since the primary demands from either side is a non-starter for the other.

    European countries are also blaming Russia for supporting Belarus to ignite the migratory crisis at the Polish borders. Thousands of migrants are being pushed by the Lukashenko regime to enter the EU via Poland. The EU’s claim is that Russia is trying to win concessions for its stand against NATO by building pressure through covert channels like this. Paris will play a significant role at the future NATO–Russia talks to discuss European and Russian security matters. It will have to doubly assure that no European nation feels sidelined or overpowered by the collective NATO decision. To maintain the cohesive structure of the EU, it is very important that decision making is not exclusive.

    The raging pandemic is another concern for the French Presidency amidst such turbulent times. The severity of it would consume time and shift the focus from already set targets to issuing guidelines and regulations to curb the spread of the virus. The number of positive cases has only increased since last month, with France topping the list in Europe.

    Another time-taking event during the presidential tenure will be the national elections in France, scheduled for April 2022. As the election nears, we will see a shift in focus from the Council Presidency to the domestic campaign. The Electoral Neutrality clause will keep the electoral candidates from making any public appearances (online and offline) a few weeks before the elections. This will leave Paris with only about four months to achieve the set targets. If Macron falls short, it will prove to be an easy advantage for candidates like Marine Le Pen. But, if he uses the presidency to showcase a perfect blend of French and EU’s interests, with Paris at its helm, that will better suit EU needs.

    Favourable Aspects to the Presidential Tenure

    France has always had a steady interest in promoting stability and a rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific, the prime example being the Global Gateway initiative of the EU, which will boost smart and clean links in digital, health, transport and energy systems across the world. Owing to its friendly relations with France and a long coastline in the Indo-Pacific, India is a natural partner for France in this region of the world. Post the AUKUS alliance, it has been making efforts to align with regional powers and groupings like India and the ASEAN to play a significant role in the Pacific waters. Its overseas territories provide the advantage of having 93 per cent of its exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in and around the Indo-Pacific11, making it a geographic reality for France. Its efforts to give the Indo-Pacific region its due significance in the EU maritime and foreign policies started way before the presidency targets were set.

    France has also been making in-house efforts by bringing the European power triangle to the forefront. France signed the Franco-Italian treaty last November12 covering cooperation from defence integration to migration. Improving relations between France, Germany and Italy, inked in various pacts and treaties, will further smoothen the presidential tenure for Paris. The newly elected Scholz government has also been supportive of the French efforts in resolving issues across the bloc. Its biggest example being the statement of German Europe Minister Anna Lührmann regarding “agree to disagree on the issue”13 of nuclear energy. This indicates the German will to work together on matters of the EU.


    France’s efforts in making the EU take an interest in the Indo-Pacific as the centre stage of geopolitics and geo-economics along with leading the fight to get nuclear counted as a green source of energy are some of the broad areas that might see a push during the presidential tenure. With Olaf Scholz taking charge in Germany, we could see a fresh cooperation emerging not just between the Franco-German leaders but also with Italy’s Mario Draghi. The Presidency has come at a time when the EU needs a liberal and strong nation at the helm of affairs, which can fine-tune relations with other European countries and stand strong for its principles and values. France fits the deal.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.