Ministers outlined the priorities of the French Presidency of the Council of the EU to parliamentary committees, in a series of meetings.
France holds the Presidency of the Council until the end of June 2022. The hearings take place between 24 January and 28 February.
On 24 January, MEPs pressed Franck Riester, Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness, to find out if member states have made any progress on the legislation on foreign subsidies and the recently presented anti-coercion tool. They also want to see progress on free trade agreements with Chile, and called for closer ties with Taiwan and support for Lithuania against China.
Several MEPs said the discussion on an investment agreement with China should not be relaunched without the adoption of a regulation on a trade-based instrument against forced labour. Mr Riester added that the Presidency expects an agreement on the international procurement instrument during its tenure.
Economic and Monetary Affairs
On 25 January, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said delivering a green and socially fair economic recovery and better-integrating innovation into the EU’s economic model are top priorities. He also stressed that progress on completing the capital markets union and the banking union, as well as reviewing the economic governance model, would be key to delivering these priorities.
MEPs sought more clarification on France’s position on the taxonomy regulation and the review of the stability and growth pact. Taxation policy was also raised a few times and some French MEPs voiced their concerns over the influence they believe financial lobbies exerted during the drafting of EU financial and tax laws.
Agriculture and Rural Development
Reciprocal environmental and health production standards for products imported from third countries are, together with carbon farming, the two main priorities, Agriculture and Food Minister Julien Denormandie told MEPs on 25 January. Mirror clauses should be used in trade agreements and farmers must be able to capture more carbon, he added. Many MEPs agreed with the Presidency’s approach.
A number of MEPs stressed the current crisis in the pigmeat sector and requested a system to support farmers. Some speakers asked about nutrition food labelling schemes, whilst others proposed a careful approach to the revision of the EU geographical indications systems and the EU’s promotion policy for agricultural products.
Internal Market and Consumer Protection
Unlocking the full potential of the single market, in line with the digital and green transitions, ensuring fair competition, and protecting consumers from unsafe products were among the issues highlighted by Minister Delegate for Industry, Agnès Pannier-Runacher on 25 January.
Minister of State for the Digital Transition and Electronic Communication Cédric O reiterated the will to reach a provisional agreement on the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA) under the Presidency. The Artificial Intelligence and the Data Acts were also referred to in his intervention.
MEPs mentioned, amongst other topics, the need for more fully harmonised rules, especially for the digital markets, the role of consumers in the green transition, the durability and reparability of products, interoperability, targeted advertising, common chargers, the Single Market Emergency Instrument, foreign subsidies, and SMEs.
Women’s rights and gender equality
On 25 January, the Minister Delegate for Equality between Women and Men, Diversity and Equal Opportunities, Elisabeth Moreno, said the Presidency would work to conclude work on several major policy areas, including on pay transparency, women’s presence on company boards and the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
MEPs called for further action against violence, which has increased by 30% since the beginning of the pandemic. They also questioned the Minister on a potential EU care strategy, the promotion of gender equality through the EU’s external policy, and sexual and reproductive rights. On the latter, the Minister recalled the Presidency’s intention to discuss how to recognise the right to abortion explicitly in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
On 25 January, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned the build-up of troops on the Ukraine border. Referring to the upcoming EU-African Union summit, the Minister highlighted the security situation in Mali and the wider Sahel region as key priorities, as well as the situation in Burkina Faso. On the Balkans and the enlargement process, the Presidency will organise a conference later in 2022.
In their responses, MEPs asked about accession candidate countries from the Balkans and what actions would be considered against Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik. On the Ukraine crisis, MEPs questioned French proposals to re-establish dialogue with Russia and inquired whether EU member states would align with MEPs’ push for more assertive action against China.
Employment and Social Affairs
On 25 January, Labour, Employment and Economic Inclusion Minister Élisabeth Borne cited as Presidency priorities the promotion of employment and protection of workers, inclusive social models and more resilient societies. Minister Borne also told MEPs she aims to conclude negotiations on a fair minimum wage and to make significant progress on the pay transparency file. Other priorities referenced in her presentation included new rights for platform workers and guaranteeing a healthy work environment.
MEPs generally welcomed this agenda, while. pleading for the unblocking of the file on the coordination of social security. They also called for urgent measures to address the impact of the pandemic on employment and education and mental health of EU youth.
On January 25th, Minister of territorial cohesion and relations with local authorities Jacqueline Gourault said the Presidency will discuss with MEPs the upcoming 8th report on economic, social and territorial cohesion, analysing the geography of discontent emerging from the EU’s more peripheral areas.
MEPs said cohesion policy must only finance solutions protecting the environment and that it must be at the forefront of all budgetary discussions. They also warned about the current significant delays in cohesion funds, adding that MEPs want to start discussing the shape of cohesion policy after 2027. MEPs raised concerns about the upcoming code of conduct for partnerships to improve the participation of local and regional groupings in funding programmes.
Culture and Education
On 26 January, Minister for Culture Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin highlighted three main priorities for the coming six months: the creation of an intra-EU mobility programme for artists and cultural workers; consolidating EU artistic and cultural sovereignty; and ensuring access to culture for all. MEPs asked how the EU’s cultural and linguistic diversity will be safeguarded in the digital age, and called for measures to combat discrimination and the reproduction of racial stereotypes in the arts. MEPs also asked about common EU initiatives for the videogames sector, the restitution of looted artworks to former colonies, and they welcomed the planned creation of an EU fund to support of investigative and independent journalism.
On 27 January, Minister of the Higher Education, Research and Innovation Frédérique Vidal cited as Presidency priorities the creating of synergies between higher education, research, innovation and services, and advancing the “European Universities” initiative. Minister Vidal also spoke about setting up an independent committee for European history and a European academy. MEPs want the French Presidency to work on ensuring the EU-wide automatic recognition of below-university level diplomas and qualifications, access to Erasmus+ funding for most disadvantaged students, and support for digital skills and education.
Environment, Public Health and Food Security
On 26 January, Minister for Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili presented MEPs four priorities for the Presidency’s work on environmental policy: the Fit for 55 climate package where she aims at reaching a Council position by June, biodiversity, the circular economy including batteries and waste strategies, and the right to a healthy environment. MEPs questioned her on a range of issues, including how to build broader support for climate ambitions in all member states, the French position on the Commission’s decision on the taxonomy of green energy sources, the timeframe for the batteries strategy, and the long-term sustainability of EU policies.
On January 27, Minister for Solidarity and Health Olivier Véran said that the French Presidency would focus on reaching an agreement on the regulation on serious cross-border threats to health. The Presidency will also work on strengthening EU healthcare cooperation, the EU’s role in global health, the future of the Health Union, mental health, digitalisation in healthcare, as well as rare diseases and antimicrobial resistance. MEPs questioned the minister on the European Health Union, Covid-19 and cancer treatments, digitalisation, health inequalities, women’s health and abortion rights.
On 26 January, Secretary of State for European affairs Clément Beaune said the biggest challenge for the EU is strengthening our democracies and the European legal order against both internal and external threats and the manipulation of information. Minister Beaune also discussed with MEPs the ideas around transnational electoral lists for European elections and an EU-wide constituency, on which some MEPs raised questions about balance between member states and whether this would facilitate or hinder EU integration.
MEPs also discussed Parliament’s rights of initiative and inquiry, the financing of political parties and transparency in political advertising, an EU independent ethics body, delays in the Council on the Art. 7 proceedings, and the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Industry, Research and Energy
On 27 January, Barbara Pompili, Minister for Ecological Transition, pleaded for the acceleration of the decarbonisation of Europe’s economy and for the advancement of negotiations in the Council on the directives on energy efficiency and renewable energy. The French Presidency will also work on the Fit for 55 package proposals relating to the gas system, buildings and methane. Rising energy also feature on their agenda.
In the area of industry, SMEs and Space, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, Minister Delegate in charge of Industry, highlighted the importance of “inventing a new growth model”, one to lead Europeans to reflect on their strategic autonomy and vulnerabilities, particularly in terms of the supply of health products or semiconductors. The Presidency will fight for fair competition to enable European companies to compete on equal terms with their competitors elsewhere.
On research and innovation, Frédérique Vidal, Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation, said that the Presidency will work for a European knowledge policy to promote synergies between education, research, innovation and services to society. Minister Vidal also advocated for increasing the attractiveness of European research. The French Presidency will also support a “genuine European innovation area” and work on the deployment of the Horizon Europe programme. Cooperation with third countries in the field of research must, according to Minister Vidal, emphasise respect for the values, principles, and interests of the Union.
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
On 31 January, Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said that advancing the e-Evidence negotiations is a priority. He especially highlighted the potential of new e-Evidence rules in fighting child abuse. As a second priority, Mr Dupond-Moretti mentioned the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, signalling his intention to conduct hearings on these topics. Finally, the third priority is the environment, as the Presidency hopes that recent proposals on an environmental crime directive can be quickly passed into law.
Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune announced that the hearings on the Article 7 procedure for Poland and Hungary would be restarting in March and in May respectively, along with the country-specific discussions that will also continue in March, based on the Annual Rule of Law report.
Some MEPs called for a vote on Article 7 procedures, while others asked to end them due to their ideological nature. The State Secretary replied that the Presidency would follow the established Treaty procedures.
On 1 February, Minister Delegate for Tourism, French Nationals Abroad and Francophonie, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne highlighted the upcoming African Union-EU summit as an important moment, and securing soon the signature of the post-Cotonou agreement as priorities. He identified as key issues: the geostrategic implications of EU development policy, global health governance, EU development finance and the environment. On humanitarian action, Minister Lemoyne pointed to the first EU Humanitarian Forum in March 2022.
MEPs agreed on the importance of the AU-EU Summit and the conclusion of the post-Cotonou agreement. Several highlighted that supporting partner countries’ public health systems and vaccine rollouts during the pandemic is vital. Others questioned the Presidency on how to deal with the consequences of the crises in Afghanistan and the Sahel.
Transport and Tourism
On 2 February, Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari highlighted three main priorities: fighting climate change through the decarbonisation of the transport sector, better regulation and employment conditions in the transport sector, and innovation. Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne thanked MEPs for supporting the EU COVID digital certificate in order to save the 2021 holiday season and promised to put great effort into rebuilding the tourism sector, which has been badly hit by pandemic.
Transport Committee MEPs urged ministers to ensure timely agreement on the Fit for 55 package, make progress on the Single European Sky and unblock the Council debate on air passengers’ rights and airport slots. They also stressed the importance of the Social Climate Fund in protecting the most vulnerable people during the green transition, pointing out that it is key to striking the right balance between climate objectives and the competitiveness of EU companies.
On 3 February, Maritime Affairs Minister Annick Girardin committed to speed up the negotiations on a new Fisheries Control Regulation. She mentioned a need to renew the EU’s fishing partnerships with Mauritius and Madagascar and hoped for a constructive dialogue with the UK, which would lead to a balanced relationship based on the commitments made in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
A number of MEPs asked for the ambitions of a new Fisheries Control Regulation to be managed so that it would not result in disproportionate control and red tape for small fishers, while other MEPs highlighted that increasing the margin of catch tolerance would lead to overfishing being legalised. Some MEPs also emphasised the need to attract more young people to the fisheries sector.
Security and Defence
On 7 February, Minister of French Armed Forces Florence Parly called for an EU defence strategy that would enable Europe to act more quickly and flexibly, particularly where European interests are at stake. On Europe’s strategic compass, to be published in March, she stressed that it is vital for Europe to contribute to global security and determine its own future, as well as Europe becoming more resilient to the attempts to destabilise it.
Several MEPs pointed to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, as well as the situation in Africa, with particular interest in the activities of the Wagner group in the area. They also asked about Europe’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, and Europe’s capabilities to defend itself in new areas of conflict – on the high seas, in cyberspace and in outer space.
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (part II)
On 7 February, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin explained that the Presidency will work on improving the political management of the Schengen area as well as making progress on the new migration legislation. In this respect, a step-by-step approach combining solidarity and responsibility, protection of external borders and more effective cooperation with countries of origin and transit is essential. Another priority is the fight against extremism and financing of terrorism.
Replying to MEPs asking about the proposed timing for legislative migration files, Minister Darmanin explained that he hoped for a political agreement in the Council between March and June.
Culture and Education
On 7 February, Minister of National Education, Youth and Sport Jean-Michel Blanquer, and Secretary of State in charge of youth and engagement Sarah El Haïry identified as presidency priorities the fostering of mobility of teachers and students, advancing Erasmus teacher academies, and promoting investments in education. In sport, the Presidency will support more sports in extracurricular school activities. The ministers also told MEPs about a plan to set up European civic service missions for young people to increase awareness of the EU.
MEPs said this civic service initiative should not duplicate the EU Solidarity Corps. They asked for a more concrete outline of the activities foreseen for the European Year of Youth, and about reaching young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. MEPs also called on the Presidency to increase the participation of young women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).