What the next presidency will do
France will take over the rotating presidency of the EU on 1 July. This is an important moment for France, an opportunity to show its commitment to European issues after the French referendum on the European constitution plunged the EU into an institutional crisis.
France’s relationship with the EU has been quite tense in recent years. Having been subjected to disciplinary action for failing to curb its ballooning deficit, France now wants to put the past behind it. “France is back in Europe”, president Nicolas Sarkozy said last year.
As European affairs minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet has put it, France wants to show its ability to “give significant impetus to the European project”. The forthcoming presidency says it will set up a high-level committee to think about Europe’s future direction, particularly for the 2020-30 period. The committee is expected to make recommendations by June 2009.
France says it will focus on three priorities over its six-month tenure of the EU presidency: climate change, energy and immigration. Other issues likely to feature high on its agenda include civil protection – better EU response to environmental disasters – food safety, defence issues and economic growth. It is also working on a common work plan with the Czech Republic and Sweden, which will hold the EU presidency in 2009.
Environmental priorities other than climate change include biodiversity, environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo said last year. Mr Borloo also committed to pushing forward several legislative proposals, including the inclusion of shipping in the European carbon emission trading scheme.
The next two presidencies of the EU are expected to focus on waste management and air quality, ENDS understands.
Securing EU agreement on the package of measures on climate change proposed by the European commission in January will be among France’s main priorities, French prime minister François Fillon told MEPs in February.
Speaking at the European parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Fillon reiterated France’s aim to broker a deal on the package under its presidency. Adopting EU measures against carbon leakage will be one of France’s top priorities, he said.
France has already proposed a carbon tax on EU imports of energy-intensive goods, though the commission has put forward its own plans to address the issue.
“France will propose… to add border adjustment mechanisms to prevent European industry from being penalised by its efforts to combat climate change,” according to a government statement issued at the time.
Mr Fillon said the carbon intensity of national energy mixes should be taken into account when negotiating individual national targets to promote renewable energy. The commission has proposed to increase France’s renewables target to 20 per cent by 2020. France argues that anything higher than this would be unfair because the high proportion of nuclear power it generates means its energy production is already one of the least carbon-intensive in Europe.
France wants to focus discussions on energy security issues. The priority for Europe must be to ensure that its energy supplies are secure. Further liberalisation of EU energy markets can wait, Mr Fillon stressed last year.
The prime minister signalled that discussions on full ownership unbundling, which would force major energy producers to sell off their retail distribution networks, would not get very far under the French presidency.
Governments stay divided over plans on unbundling in the European commission’s third energy package. Eight member states led by France and Germany have strong reservations.
Discussions on plans to further reform the EU’s common agriculture policy (CAP) after 2013 are likely to begin under the French presidency. France says it wants to start a debate on the issue as soon as possible. The idea is to strengthen the links between CAP rules and environmental protection.
The European commission is due to table legislative proposals later this year. In a policy paper issued last year the commission proposed to extend rules linking farm subsidies to compliance with a range of environmental and food safety laws to tackle climate change and improve water management. These are known as “cross-compliance” rules.
But governments and MEPs do not support this. In March agriculture ministers stressed the “possible difficulties of addressing new challenges through the broadening of the overall scope of cross compliance”.
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