French elections permeate Macron’s priorities for EU presidency – POLITICO

PARIS – There was a strong undercurrent of domestic politics on Thursday evening as President Emmanuel Macron unveiled his priorities for the French presidency of the Council of the EU.

Macron chose to start his one-hour presentation at the Elysee Palace in Paris with an ambitious initiative – some would say mission impossible – to reform the functioning of the Schengen area without a visa and “advance the European migration package”.

Whether that’s the last point, the European leaders have not made progress on these issues for at least the last eight rotating presidencies, it has internal political meaning in France.

The main candidates in the French presidential election, which is due to take place in April 2022, have made migration a central focus of their original speeches, notably the far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour – who attract nearly ‘a third of the French electorate according to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls – and conservative Republican candidate Valérie Pécresse, who is skyrocketing in the polls.

Macron’s ability to prove to French citizens that the EU benefits them on a daily basis and on a personal level will be key to his candidacy for presidential re-election, as he is the most pro-European politician in the arena and it is the glue that binds its disparate electorate.

This was on display as he detailed his priorities for the Presidency of the Council of the EU, which will overlap with the presidential campaign and the elections in France. Macron has yet to officially announce that he will run for a second term.

The French decision on Schengen was expected and, for some diplomats, it could be a game-changer for moving forward with the latest Commission proposal to reform asylum in the EU – the Migration Pact.

But when it comes to reaching an agreement on the migration pact, there is not much optimism. Swedish Home Secretary Anders Ygeman said on Thursday he hoped Paris would make progress but “I don’t think they will shut it down.”

After setting out his vision for the Schengen reform, Macron sketched out a uniquely French vision of how the European market and the recovery should be shaped with more social protections and more job creation.

“You have to have an obsession, it is to create jobs and to fight against unemployment,” Macron said.

French citizens, who along with their Greek counterparts are the most Eurosceptic in Europe according to a recent poll, have long felt that the European single market has taken jobs away from them and lowered their wages with the entry of workers from Europe. of the East in the labor market. Marlet.

While Macron has been advocating since taking office what he calls “a Europe that protects”, the urgency has been worsened by the COVID-19 crisis and the upcoming presidential election.

He also said he wanted academics to work on a “history of Europe” as part of an initiative on historical revisionism in Europe, an issue he has long paid attention to but which has taken on new significance. significance in recent weeks with Zemmour’s rewrite of France’s involvement in Nazi war crimes.

“I want us to launch a vast project on the history of Europe,” Macron said, “at a time when historical revisionism is taking hold in several countries, is being used by powers that want to question our values”.

Macron’s comments come a day after he visited the city of Vichy in a thinly veiled attempt to counter Zemmour’s repeated laundering of French history. Vichy was the seat of government of the country which collaborated with Adolf Hitler during World War II.

In the past, Macron has also accused Russia of engaging in historic revisionism. The Polish and Hungarian leaders have also been accused of taking revisionist measures in recent years.

Macron has said he wants to set up an independent committee to “create a history of our Europe and a world history of Europe,” with a kickoff in June.

Marion Solletty and Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.

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