France won’t mix domestic and EU agendas, Beaune says

The French government will keep domestic politics separate from its work as a broker in negotiations at EU level when it holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU from January 1, Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune said Monday at a POLITICO event.

“There is always a political background to any presidency,” Beaune said. “But don’t be worried, we will not mix things up.”

The French are heading to the polls for the presidential election in April, midway through the EU presidency, raising fears in Brussels that big policy files will be held hostage to national politics on issues such as trade, or that the French government will have a limited bandwidth to push through big files during the height of the presidential campaign.

“I want to make very clear that we are committed to this presidency from day one to June 30. We have prepared for that.”

“It doesn’t make things easy to organize to be frank,” Beaune admitted. “I will try to sleep less!” he quipped.

Trade impasse

Beaune said that France’s reluctance to concluding new trade deals or ratifying existing ones has nothing to do with the upcoming election and trade skepticism among French voters.

“We are reluctant [on] some trade deals … not because we have elections but because we have a debate on substance,” he said, pointing to the need for increasing environmental provisions in trade agreements.

“Take Mercosur [the trade treaty between the EU and South American countries, which France has refused to ratify citing environmental concerns], it’s not a question of presidential elections in France … the Dutch parliament, the Austrian parliament, Luxembourg’s parliament, the Irish government have said they have big concerns.”

“It’s not crazy French people having elections, it’s broader than that,” he added. “We say no to this independently from the elections because we think we need to rethink our trade agreements.”

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