What to expect from the French Presidency of the EU? Interview with the Ambassador to Latvia / Article

Interview with the French Ambassador

Latvijas Radio: First of all, I would like to know in general about the French presidency. How do you assess the current situation in Europe and the world? How important is the French Presidency and what are its main objectives and priorities?

Aurelia Rioja-Gunnen (answers in Latvian): For France, the Presidency of the European Union is a significant event and a great responsibility. The motto of this presidency is: recovery, strength and belonging, including common values.

I will continue in English, as my accent may be difficult to understand.

The French Presidency is very important and a great responsibility. We want to do this task as well as possible, so we approach it with great responsibility. We want to continue the course started by the Portuguese and Slovak Presidencies and not lose the progress that has been made. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, is actively involved in moving the European Union forward, and we believe that it is important to show the strength and sovereignty of the European Union now, given the global situation. It is important to show that the European Union is part of the ‘game’ and that the European Union must be involved in tackling the challenges. We believe that sovereignty is not just about politics, security and defense, it is also about economy, international trade and digital development, including climate change. These are many very important areas that we want to move forward. It is also important to develop the unity of the European Union, its strengths and also our common values.

We need to be confident and united about what the European Union is showing the world and what it is providing for each Member State.

About a month ago, Emmanuel Macron presented the presidency’s priorities and main objectives. It must be said, however, that he has also been criticized for the goals he has set and for his ability to achieve them, as there are differing views in different parts of Europe. For example, when it comes to the proposal to reform the Schengen area, a Europe that is able to protect its borders. We see very different approaches in both eastern and southern Europe and even on the French coast on the border with the United Kingdom. Do you think it will be possible to make at least some progress in these discussions?

I think President Macron is very ambitious, and we have been preparing for this presidency for at least two years. The issue of the reform of the Schengen area is not new and has been discussed before. I think everyone will agree that the Schengen Agreement needs to be updated. We see that new types of attacks are taking place on the country’s borders, and Latvia is also suffering from hybrid attacks on the Latvian-Belarusian border. This is a complex issue for both political and legal reasons, but it does not mean that it cannot be solved and should be abandoned. We do not think that the problems will be solved during the French Presidency. The principle of rotating presidencies is to take the issues forward so that the process takes place step by step. France will seek to prioritize progress. There will be several important ministerial meetings and technical meetings. Everyone knows that there are different positions on issues, and these issues are very sensitive among the public. We hope to be able to move forward with the processes we have already started, as well as to start working on new ones.

One of the proposals of the French Presidency is to take forward the idea of ​​a European social model. Can you explain what it is and what it entails?

This issue was also very important during the Portuguese Presidency, and we want to continue what they have started. We want to emphasize the European growth model, and this issue will be discussed at the summit on 10 and 11 March. France considers that global ambitions for economic growth, stability and recovery are very closely linked to social rights, which are also at the heart of the European Union’s values. We want to promote the implementation of the second pillar of European social law. There are a number of legislative initiatives and ideas to build a more inclusive Europe.

That is why we also want to raise the issue of the minimum wage, transparency and increase equality between men and women.

We believe that economic growth and building a strong Europe are closely linked to social rights.

Climate change is an important issue for Europe’s future. France has been very active on climate issues, seeking concrete and effective solutions and action from the rest of Europe. Of course, there are again differences of opinion in different regions and countries in Europe, and now there are also differences between France and Germany over the use of nuclear energy, for example. How to ensure a level playing field on climate issues between European countries?

As far as the difference of opinion is concerned, I do not think that there has been an issue on which the European Union has a common view since its inception. The essence of the European Union is to be able to bring together different views and interests and to find a balance so that we can move forward. I have just mentioned the link between economic growth and social rights, and I think that linking economic growth to environmental protection is just as important. We cannot afford to affect the future of future generations, we cannot believe that we are not affected by climate change.

The climate issue should not be a luxury item, it should be at the heart of economic development.

France plans to push ahead with the “Fit for 55” climate package, in particular the idea of ​​a border carbon tax. We need to ensure that our goals on the environment and climate change are also respected by other countries directly in trade. The debate on renewable energy is also very important.

France was pleased when the Commission decided to support the proposal to include nuclear energy and natural gas in the list of “green” energy sources. The difference of opinion with Germany is also nothing new for France. This is where the essence of the European Union comes from: being at the same table and discussing different issues, even though countries have different energy policies, public views, aspirations, plans and projects. We are in favor of being able to find a solution to move forward and decarbonise the European economy.

You have already mentioned that the difference of opinion is difficult to reach a joint decision. One of the important aspects is the rule of law and the legal framework, which President Macron has said is out of the question. Of course, I am thinking here of Hungary and Poland. In these situations, one can sometimes see a clash between liberal and conservative ideas. How challenging do you think this problem will be during the French Presidency and how much attention will be paid to it?

One of the presidency’s priorities is shared values. A conference on the future of Europe is currently taking place, where Europeans can express their feelings about the future of Europe and share common values. Our values, which are democracy, human rights, equality, must be clear and concrete, because that is the essence of the union. This is an important issue and I do not think it is debatable, because all the Member States of the European Union agree to this legal basis and legal framework when they join the Union. It is part of the contract.

A country cannot benefit from a single market and a single system of protection if it fails to deliver the common values ​​of the Union.

We know it’s not easy, it’s not just black and white. An important element of the debate is that the Member States are partners who must try to be pragmatic and sensible. However, common values ​​must be taken for granted, as they are part of the core idea of ​​the European Union.

I would like to ask a question about the French Presidency and Latvia. What will be the main events of the presidency in Latvia, and what is the main message you want to convey?

It is very useful for the presidency to be made up of three countries, because it is not possible to have a discussion on every issue and a solution to all the issues in a six-month period. This year, the trio of presidencies is France, the Czech Republic and Sweden. There are embassies in Latvia from all countries, so we want to work together to raise awareness of current issues.

Internationally, 2022 is the year of youth, so we want to focus on educational activities for young people. We want to show how the European Union works to improve the quality of life in society, the mobility of young people, job prospects. The French Presidency is also planning events related to European values. On January 27, there will be a discussion with the former President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga on democracy and the values ​​of the European Union.

There will be an event on digitization on 3 February, as the digital market and responsibility for large platforms is important and relevant. We plan to listen to the views of professionals, scientists and business experts at this event. An event in the form of a debate on freedom of the press will also take place on 5 March, which is also an important asset for the European Union.

Together with other embassies, we are also planning an event specifically for young people on Europe Day. It should be noted that the situation changes often, but we are working to make the event eventful and fun in any case. It will be a celebration of European culture, languages ​​and diversity. Interesting events are also expected in May in the run-up to a major conference on the future of Europe. We are also actively cooperating with the Latvian authorities, so we can have joint discussions on important issues of the European Union. We also want to understand Latvia’s national interests and position on various specific issues. These are both climate and environmental issues, as well as digital development issues, where Latvia has a very good experience.

How do you think the French presidential election will affect the French Presidency of the European Union?

This is a challenge. Of course, it is a little more difficult to be responsible for both the presidency of the European Union and the presidential election campaign. The presidency of the European Union is not frequent, we do not have much experience, but we will be able to deal with it. The previous French presidency was in 2008. We are planning discussions and meetings between ministers and politicians until the end of March, and technical meetings are planned for the presidential elections in April. The French constitution does not allow officials to engage in political debate during the election, so public communication will decline slightly in April. However, despite the election campaign, technical work will not stop and issues will continue to be addressed. I can say that you may see a change in the course of public events, but the presidency will not stop.

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