What are the challenges of the French Presidency of the European Union?
Initially planned as a "dinner-debate", this exchange finally took place by videoconference at the request of the organisers in a spirit of responsibility in the context of a deteriorating health situation.
Eleven days before the start of the French Presidency of the European Union ( PFUE), the European Democratic Party wanted to bring together everyday actors of the European Union in order to highlight the stakes of this PFUE and the future of the EU that it will outline for the next six months. But the PFUE was not the only component of the event, the EDP having the will to be fully in the continuity of the Conference on the Future of Europe with this video-conference by its proactive and participative side, with a priority given to the exchange between all the participants.
French MEP Fabienne Keller and EDP members, French MEP Laurence Farreng and Basque regional deputy and former secretary general for foreign affairs in the Basque government, Iñaki Aguirre, were accompanied by Fabien Robert, deputy secretary general of the MoDem, and Xavier Sota, a journalist with the regional newspaper Sud-Ouest, who took part in the moderation game.
The first half of the event covered a wide range of topics including the ambition of the PFUE's roadmap, the reform of the Schengen area, how the EU can link the economy and the climate challenge, and of course a segment dedicated to the European recovery plan against the backdrop of the health crisis.
In the last half of the evening, another type of exchange took place, during which all the participants in the video conference were able to share their proposals for the Conference on the Future of Europe, debate the positions taken during the exchanges and ask questions on various topics.
What about this PFUE?
This 2022 PFUE will be the 13th in France's history. On the "menu" of these six months of French presidency, President Emmanuel Macron has outlined several structuring axes, which Xavier Sota wanted to question and highlight: economic recovery, green pact, Schengen area, regulation of GAFAMs...
The key word in these discussions was "ambition", which the EU should have in these six months. Laurence Farreng emphasised that the COVID crisis had enabled the EU to give itself the means to achieve its ambitions, with a recovery plan for the 27 Member States (more than 30% of which is dedicated to investments linked to the energy transition, as all the speakers emphasised during the discussion), which prefigures a renewed and assumed ambition for the 2022 PFUE.
In connection with this theme, all the speakers had time to express themselves on the question of leadership and the image of the European Union. Laurence Farreng recalled the encouraging signs for a (pro)European Union that the new German coalition was giving, even though there were questions after the closing of the Merkel chapter(s). But the EU is not just about the Franco-German couple, as our three speakers reminded us, speaking in turn about Mario Draghi's action, as well as the evolution of the "frugal" and notably the Netherlands on the "red lines" that are jumping, prefiguring a European future with a stronger and more united leadership.
But talking about the EU cannot be reduced to its 27 members. This is what Fabienne Keller kept repeating, faithful to her commitments and who had just returned from a trip to the Polish border, reminding us of the current migratory crisis with Belarus, which uses these migrants to put pressure on the EU. It was impossible not to follow up with the subject of the reform of the Schengen area, a subject that was fiercely debated not only by our three speakers but also in the "chat" area of the video conference. This was neither the first nor the last of the subjects that aroused the interest and the constructive and instructive comments of these spectators who were involved in the conversation.
On the recovery plan, which occupied another large part of the discussions, Iñaki Aguirre wished to recall the whole of the conditionality (in particular on the respect of the rule of law conditioning the aids, another first and important step for the EU) which demonstrate a Europe not blissful as some take pleasure in describing it, but well anchored in the real and conscious of the necessary power relationships and which Europe learns from the past. The real and concrete is exactly what the Basque MRP praised at length, recalling the multiple contributions of the territorialised EU that he has the opportunity to see on a daily basis in the Basque Country. A territorialized contribution that did not wait for the recovery plan to exist, but which this plan will allow to give a new and even greater impulse.
As the exchange refused to censor itself on any theme, the issues of respect for the rule of law, Europe's response to the 2008 crisis and the parallel with its response to the current health crisis, the rise of populism and how to combat it were all addressed in turn.
Not quenching the thirst of all the other participants and spectators, the debates continued through questions from the "public", which dealt with the interest of the Conference for the Future of Europe (Laurence Farreng being particularly involved in the process, recalling the large number of contributions recorded and emanating from citizens), the digital sovereignty of the EU, the Europe of Defence... On none of these subjects did the speakers have to take a back seat, demonstrating (if it were necessary) the versatility and intensity of the action of elected representatives committed to Europe.
The conclusion from this exchange seems clear. Guided by the PFUE, the EU seems ready to evolve, to transform itself in order to face the many challenges ahead.