Omicron puts Macron’s grand EU presidency plan at risk – POLITICO

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PARIS — Emmanuel Macron had hoped his nation’s EU presidency would increase his personal possible reelection bid — after which alongside got here Omicron.


Now, uncertainty surrounding in-person occasions, optimistic assessments from high-ranking officers and pandemic-dominated headlines risk jeopardizing a well-prepared program partly designed to make the French president shine forward of April’s presidential election.

“There’s a risk” that the Omicron wave that has swept throughout Europe in current weeks limits the French EU presidency’s impression past the corridors of policymaking as native occasions in smaller cities are moved on-line, an official from the Elysée Palace conceded Wednesday.

“The essential factor to recollect is that on this troublesome sanitary state of affairs, we’ve adopted a well being doctrine. We’re cautious,” the official added.

France has been notably badly hit by the most recent coronavirus variant. On Wednesday, greater than 332,000 new circumstances were registered in 24 hours — a document excessive.

The Omicron wave will possible not make a lot distinction to EU legislative work in Brussels — interinstitutional talks, working events and the like — because the EU bubble has already discovered to adapt over the previous two years. 

However dozens of occasions all through France scheduled for the subsequent three months risk being canceled or going digital, and it is already taking place — a convention on the safety of employees despatched from one EU state to a different has already moved on-line.

That may threaten the EU-themed (and non-cycling) tour de France, meant to point out French residents outdoors Paris the advantages of the EU — and the important thing position Macron performs inside it — in addition to successful political factors with native mayors forward of the April vote. Macron hasn’t formally declared his candidacy however when he does, he would be the candidate with by far essentially the most pro-EU agenda.

A nasty begin

The French presidency of the Council of the EU — which kicked off on January 1 and lasts for the primary half of the yr — hasn’t had an auspicious begin.

“If it weren’t for the flag episode, the start of the French EU Council presidency would have virtually gone unnoticed due to the dominance of this COVID wave,” mentioned Sébastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors Institute suppose tank, referring to the outrage triggered by the EU flag flying solo below the Arc de Triomphe over the weekend.

The hoisting of the EU flag (and never the French one) was meant to mark the start of the EU presidency however shortly grew to become a battle over France’s historical past and id, and noticed all of Macron’s rivals activate him.

This week’s go to to Paris by all of the European commissioners goes forward as deliberate, though this system hangs by a thread due to the pandemic and wanted readjustment after Nationwide Meeting President Richard Ferrand tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Fee Vice President Věra Jourová is not going to make the journey as a result of she is in poor health, a Fee spokesperson mentioned, though he didn’t say whether or not she had coronavirus.

This time final yr, when Portugal held the rotating EU presidency, a go to to Lisbon by the Fee prime brass resulted in three commissioners going into isolation due to an infection dangers — a cautionary story for Paris.

Plans B and C

Regardless of preliminary optimism that the vaccine rollout would deliver again one thing resembling regular life, French authorities have drawn up three situations for the EU presidency, officers mentioned: one the place every little thing takes place in particular person, one the place all of it goes on-line, and a hybrid of the 2.


Barely every week in and the optimistic, in-person state of affairs is already out of the window, at least until January 23. In France, solely occasions of “main significance” and casual ministerial conferences with small delegations will go forward in particular person till that date, and authorities will reconvene each two weeks to resolve on the way in which ahead. In Brussels and Luxembourg, conferences are deliberate as regular (for now).

Macron’s speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on January 19, which is anticipated to be a key second for each the EU presidency and his electoral marketing campaign, is for now nonetheless on, in accordance with two French officers. 

Nevertheless, the destiny of the handfuls of different occasions with European lawmakers and a variety of industries on points from aviation to the audiovisual sector in cities equivalent to Toulouse, Angers and Marseille is unclear.

“The problem stays to display … that Europe is as shut as doable to its residents,” mentioned Marie-Pierre Vedrenne, an MEP from Macron’s delegation. She acknowledged that the “COVID day by day disaster” made it more durable to get that message throughout, however highlighted it was as much as politicians to point out people who the response to the pandemic is efficient at European, in addition to nationwide, stage.

The group of occasions in cities everywhere in the nation was additionally designed to assist Macron get nearer to native mayors from events that would turn into useful in future alliances. For instance, the mayor of Angers in japanese France — which is scheduled to host a day-long convention on the audiovisual sector at the tip of January — is the secretary-general of Horizons, the brand new social gathering of the French president’s frenemy and former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe. Toulouse, the place the annual Digital Meeting is ready to happen in June, can also be run by a politician close to Philippe.

In accordance with Maillard from the Delors Institute, the French president can nonetheless leverage the subsequent three months of his nation’s EU presidency if he manages to get political settlement on points at the moment up for consideration by the EU in time for the election. Matters such because the minimal wage, the border-free Schengen zone and the carbon border tax all resonate with French public opinion.

Nevertheless, in additional instantly, the pandemic might spoil one of many taglines of the French EU presidency — “belonging.”

“It’s troublesome to make the ‘belonging’ feeling come alive in a rustic the place persons are questioning what they need to do if they’re optimistic for COVID and who will take care of the kids if the faculties shut,” Maillard mentioned.

Elisa Braun, Rym Momtaz and Maïa de La Baume contributed reporting.

This text is a part of POLITICO’s premium coverage service: Professional Well being Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and extra, our specialised journalists maintain you on prime of the matters driving the well being care coverage agenda. E mail [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

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