What does the French presidency of the EU mean for Serbia and the Western Balkans?

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For the first time in 14 years, France took over the presidency of the European Union, and the priority was announced to build a stronger and more sovereign EU, defend the rule of law and European values and strengthen strategic autonomy.
The six-month term began on January 1st and overlaps with the French presidential election scheduled for April, and some of the key points of the French presidency will affect Serbia and the Western Balkans.
Namely, French President Emmanuel Macron pointed out on December 9 at the Elysee Palace that the EU should be more politically and economically engaged in the region.
“We have a special responsibility towards the Western Balkans. We need to pursue a policy of re-engagement, but also investment, to support the economic integration of the region and to fight interference, manipulation by several regional powers that seek to destabilize Europe through the Balkans,” Macron said.
France adopted its national strategy for the Western Balkans in 2019, so it is hoped that it will find space and support further integration. However, Macron has been known in recent years for the view that the EU should not accept new members until the internal problems are resolved, but also that the Western Balkans must not be allowed to remain in the situation it is in today.
According to the French ambassador to Slovenia, Florence Ferrari, France will organize a conference on the Western Balkans at the end of its presidency in June, which should prove the role that France attaches to the region and its EU perspective.
“Paris is aware that security and stability in the Western Balkans are of key importance for Europe and supports its path to membership in the European Union,” she told Slovenia’s STA news agency.
If the critics were right and Macron used the presidency for his presidential campaign, the topic of enlargement and the problems of the Western Balkans could remain in the shadow of French elections and internal battles.
Bodo Weber, an expert on the Balkans and a senior associate of the Council for Democratization Policy in Berlin, believes that the future of the European Union’s enlargement policy towards the Western Balkans will depend on the relations between Berlin and Paris.
“France has not only blocked the opening of pre-accession negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania for two years, but President Macron, although he does not say so openly, is personally against the enlargement policy. In the relationship between Belgrade and Pristina, it is necessary to reset the negotiations on the final agreement, which must happen under the pressure of Berlin and Washington,” he explained.
The motto of the presidency is “Recovery, strength, belonging”
Macron pointed out that he wants to build “a Europe strong in the world, completely sovereign, with freedom of choice, which will be the master of its own destiny.”
The French presidency will work to promote the European model of growth, which will allow the 27-nation bloc to generate wealth and jobs while maintaining high social and climate standards.
He also stressed that progress in the bloc’s joint defense capability is also key to securing EU sovereignty. Since his appointment in 2017, the French president has advocated for the EU to be independent in terms of defense, and to no longer rely solely on the American security umbrella inherited from World War II.
A new “EU strategic compass”, a joint threat analysis and a European crisis resolution mechanism should be adopted during the French presidency.
In addition to France, the new presidency of the EU consists of the next presidencies, the Czech Republic and Sweden. The three countries have made the protection of citizens and freedom a priority, with a focus on respecting European values and strengthening the Schengen area and a common asylum and migration policy. It will also promote a new model of growth and investment, based on sustainable green growth and strengthening the EU’s industrial and digital sovereignty.
At the top of the agenda will be a global Europe that promotes multilateralism and renewed international partnerships.
The EU social model
As announced, France will hold an extraordinary summit on March 10 and 11 on a new European model of growth and investment, in order to establish new budget rules after the crown of the crisis.
Namely, the French president proposed that the “budget framework” of the EU, which was previously defined by the Maastricht Treaty, be “re-examined”, claiming that the issue of the deficit rule of three percent was “outdated”. Relying on the success of the Erasmus program, he added that he wants a six-month “European civil service” for all those under 25.
Macron emphasized that he was in favor of “defending the European social model”, calling for a “model of production, but also of solidarity”.
Reconciling climate ambitions and economic development
“One of our goals will be to implement a carbon adjustment mechanism or the famous ‘carbon tax’ on Europe’s borders, which will allow us to make this transition for all our industries, while maintaining our competitiveness,” the French president said.
Namely, Emmanuel Macron promised that he would “reconcile climate ambitions and economic development”, as well as that European economic players cannot “be victims of efforts” in the fight against climate change. Macron also said that the bloc would “move towards a European tool for combating deforestation”, banning the import of products that contribute to deforestation, Biznis reports.