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France kicks off EU presidency

Jack Parrock Brussels
January 5, 2022

Paris hopes to use its six months at the head of the Council of the EU to tackle the bloc's "economic, educational, migration and military challenges." French President Macron will do it while facing an election at home.

Eiffelturm lit up with EU flag
France is taking over the EU Council presidency from SloveniaImage: Alain Jocard/AFP/dpa/picture alliance

The first weekly meeting of 2022 of the 27 EU Commissioners is being held in the French capital, Paris, despite high case numbers of COVID-19 in Europe and particularly in France.

French President Emmanuel Macron has outlined an ambitious plan for the presidency, in the hope of pushing a number of key issues over the next six months.

In a statement to mark its launch, Macron said, "the French presidency must be a moment of truth for the regulation and accountability of digital platforms, the carbon pricing at European borders on imported products, minimum wages, and our relationship with Africa."

Uncommonly for a European Council presidency, there will be a national election during those six months, with French voters heading to the polls in April.

Franco-German axis

France takes up the Council presidency from Slovenia, which followed Germany's stint during the first half of 2021.

With Chancellor Olaf Scholz taking over after 16 years of Angela Merkel leading Germany, the political priorities of the French presidency will be a test of the new relationship between Paris and Berlin.

"How Macron is received in general in Berlin is still an open question," Jon Worth, a prominent EU blogger, told DW. "On energy policy — especially nuclear — there is obvious tension, but Scholz will be less fiscally hawkish than Merkel’s administration was. There is also still a clash of style between the more brash and assertive Macron and the very understated Scholz."

The new German government was keen to openly show its commitment to the relationship with a number of senior ministers and the chancellor himself heading straight to Paris in the days immediately after being sworn in.

Digital agenda

During the French EU Council presidency, Macron wants to move forward two major pieces of EU legislation on digital protections.

The European Commission put out proposals for the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in December 2020 and Paris hopes negotiations with the European Parliament and among EU governments can be completed while France holds the chair.

The DSA would be a sweeping law to fight disinformation, murky advertising practices and illegal content online.

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The DMA proposal focuses on reducing the control of multinational tech companies online and preventing them from abusing their powerful positions.

"We can expect the French presidency to focus on reinforcing measures to combat illegal content online, safeguarding due diligence measures as well as on pushing for strong centralized enforcement of the future DSA regulation," Eliska Pirkova, Europe policy analyst at the digital rights group Access Now, told DW.

Climate action

One of the other key concerns for the French presidency is trying to get the EU to enforce a carbon border tax.

France has long been one of the most vociferous countries calling for additional taxes to be levied on products and services that emit large amounts of CO2.

In its proposals to reach a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030, the European Commission put forward a plan known as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). A global first, it will affect high-emitting industries such as steel, cement, aluminum, fertilizers and energy production.

EU watchers like economist Andre Sapir, a senior fellow at Bruegel, a think tank, told DW, "There are clear hesitations on the part of a number of EU member states to proceed because of the fear of retaliation by third countries who will be affected by the carbon tax, which implies in my view that the EU needs to negotiate with third countries before implementing its carbon border tax."

Other issues the French presidency plans to address are an EU-wide minimum wage, how to tax global digital corporations and, potentially, to adapt EU rules on government funding of certain industries to be able to compete with global players like China and the US.

Edited by: Nicole Goebel