France at EU’s Helm: Macron Faces High Expectations From Brussels, Paris, Rabat Etc.

Written by | Friday, January 7th, 2022

France took over the rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 January 2022, just days after German leader Angela Merkel retired. French President Emmanuel Macron has never made any secret of his ambitions to be the engine for further European integration, serving over the last four years as a dynamic sidekick to the more steady German chancellor in Europe’s power couple. On the first day of 2022, Macron announced an ambitious program and priorities for the 27-member bloc for the next six months that could also serve his domestic campaign for re-election as president, in the face of the rising challenge from France’s far-right camp. His aim is clear: Macron would like to be seen as the EU’s de facto leader in the run-up to national elections in April. But the French head of state is launching a high-stakes political gamble if only because his agenda may simply prove to be too ambitious for the 27 member states. In other words, if Macron fails to achieve concrete results, his political opponents will waste no time in using these setbacks to weaken him at home.
Macron will try to make the most of the four months while in office during which high-level diplomatic events and diplomatic initiatives will still be possible. The transatlantic relationship will still feature prominently but, operationally speaking, France will seek to get increasingly involved in the areas where their core interests are at stake, which will naturally affect French policy toward the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Practically speaking, as the United States is focusing more on the Indo-Pacific and less on the MENA region, Paris has realized that it must get increasingly involved in the areas where its core interests are at stake, namely, North Africa, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and other neighboring regions. In a nutshell, France, and to a broader extent the EU, must seek to provide their own security.
There are two main underlaying drivers of Macron’s efforts in the MENA: First and foremost, the idea that ensuring security at home requires projecting stability in neighboring regions and countries through an increased engagement in crisis management and resolution. Second, the notion that pursuing counter-terrorism efforts in neighboring regions is paramount to preserve Europe and France’s security. Being a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, France is often inclined to play a role in solving international crises around the world. When it comes to instability in Europe’s backyard, France considers that what happens in the MENA has an impact on France and more broadly on the EU as a whole. Hence, in 2022, France is likely to continue to be very much engaged in regional crisis management, particularly in Libya, Lebanon and Iraq.
Macron will also chair the ‘One Ocean’ summit, dedicated to protecting the oceans and seas, in February, before bringing together in Brussels the leaders of the EU and the African Union, to discuss the relations between the two continents. “The link between [Africa and Europe] is the great political and geopolitical project of the decades to come,” the French president declared in December, stating his desire to launch an economic and financial New Deal with Africa. As Macron’s plans include strengthening Europe’s borders and forging a new alliance with Africa, he will need the backing especially of North African countries, such as Morocco. Countries on the southern coast of the Mediterranean, by and large, expect to use France’s rotating presidency to strengthen their bilateral relations with the EU.

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