Last January 1, and for six months, France took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union, taking the baton from Slovenia, and with the mission and responsibility of finalising ambitious laws and projects to establish a united, strong and sovereign European Union.
France sees its destiny in the EU and wants the EU to grow as a political union, based on democracy and rule of law, ensuring the peace and the highest degree of freedom, prosperity and equality to its
450 million citizens. That is why France had an ambitious agenda for its presidency, focusing on three key objectives: recovery, strength and a sense of belonging.
The recovery chapter remains essential after two years of duress because of the Covid pandemic. The EU has taken up the challenge by adopting and rolling out an historic recovery package of €800bn and by co-ordinating the response on vaccines in particular.
Secondly, strength: war is back on the European continent and threats are many. Against this background, the EU has been remarkably united, swift and resolute in front of the Russian aggression of Ukraine by imposing unprecedented sanctions on the decision makers in Russia, supporting Ukraine militarily with a €2bn, and extending to €9bn, financial aid package.
The European Union has made a leap forward by adopting the EU strategic compass, a roadmap to beef up the European defence with 72 concrete projects to be implemented in the three years to come, based on a common strategic and threat analysis.
Thirdly, a sense of belonging: the EU is a political union designed to serve its citizens with their democratic support. The French presidency has launched several cultural initiatives with writers, thinkers and youth to nurture the human dimension of the European project based on diversity, pluralism and multilingualism. The Conference on the Future of Europe, which concluded on May 9, was also a unique opportunity to let European citizens express directly their expectations and aspirations about Europe.
Beyond these key objectives, the French presidency was also about pushing the ambitious European legislative agenda built around climate and digital transition.
The result is impressive: within the last six months, many landmark pieces of legislation have been adopted or have been subject to a political agreement between Council and European Parliament.
To name just a few: on climate action, the political agreement on the establishment of a “border carbon adjustment mechanism” will create a level playing field between business established in the EU and subject to carbon pricing and those outside the EU which are currently not subject to the same rules.
On trade, the EU has added an anti-coercion mechanism in its toolbox and will have greater leverage to get access to international public procurement markets: our companies will directly benefit from these measures of protection and opportunities.
On digital, the political agreement on the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act, two key pieces of legislation to ensure fair competition in the digital industry and increase accountability of large players on the harmful content they may display when it comes to racism, terrorism, hate speech.
Agreements were also found on the establishment in all EU member states of a minimum wage around the same principle. This measure
is socially progressive and will prevent a “race to the bottom” at European level.
More generally, the French presidency was the occasion to organise hundreds of meetings, in France, to share analysis, compare approaches and set common objectives. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and many members of the Cabinet participated in these events.
Ireland’s point of view and contribution has never been so respected. Ireland’s testimony after 50 years of EU membership is a superb illustration of what EU belonging can do best. This is why it was an honour and privilege for me, as for my fellow ambassadors of EU member states in Dublin, to join Irish ministers on Europe Day, May 9, and visit schools throughout Ireland to engage with youth.
Our message was simple: Europe is a project of peace and prosperity, based on values. And in the current global context, we are #StrongerTogether!
Vincent Guérend is the French Ambassador to Ireland