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. A first set of hearings takes place between 24 and 27 January.
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.