The Weekly Dispatch - 02 January 2022
A happy new year, a happy new presidency, and lots of (misplaced) anger aimed at the European Flag.
The Weekly Dispatch is your weekly summary of the major events taking place in French politics, published on Sundays in order to give you the perfect way to catch up with French news and events.
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The French Presidency has begun
With the turn of the new year has come the beginning of the new presidency! Taking the reigns from Slovenia, France will now be tasked with ensuring the continuity of the EUs work in the Council of the European Union for the next six months, before handing the role on to Czechia which will then hand the reigns to Sweden six months later.
With the three priorities being outlined in the motto “Relance, Puissance, Appartenance” (Recovery, Strength, Belonging), the French presidency will be focusing on
Recovering from the pandemic and supporting the ecological and digital transition across the continent;
Building and reinforcing the strength of the European Union across several domains, and promoting our values and interests globally;
Developing and strengthening our shared European vision through reinforcing the emphasis on our culture, values and common history as Europeans.
And one key part of this would be aggressively pursuing European sovereignty, which has been a key part of the work of the French delegation at not only the Council level(s), but also the work of the French delegation at the European parliament.
And there’s no better way of summarising the goals of this new presidency than what French President Emmanuel Macron said himself when he presented it at the Élysée Palace on 9 December, 2021:
If I had to sum up in one sentence the goal of this presidency from 1 January to 30 June 2022, I would say that we need to move from being a Europe of cooperation inside of our borders to a powerful Europe in the world, fully sovereign, free to make its choices and master of its destiny.
Of course, as it tends to do in an election year, the way this presidency started off caused a little drama.
Political extremes rage at European flag
With the new French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the French government arranged for several displays to celebrate an important date in the French political calendar, including a display on the Eiffel Tower and a soon to be very controversial European flag hanging under the Arc de Triomphe.
Now, one key caveat for you to know, dear reader, is that the French flag does not permanently hang under the Arc de Triomphe, and that this is only done for key holidays. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop the more extreme Presidential candidates from misleading the French public and claiming that the French flag had been “replaced”.
“I am outraged that the French flag has been replaced by that of the European Union under the Arc de Triomphe, above the tomb of the unknown soldier. This provocation offends those who fought for France. I ask E. Macron to restore our national flag.” said Marine Le Pen, portraying this as the act of a French president who is not so fond of the French flag, and feeding into the idea that Macron is a president beholding to foreign powers such as the EU.
Valérie Pécresse, the right-wing candidate from Les Républicains, also dove headfirst into the fray: “Presiding over Europe yes, erasing French identity no! I solemnly ask Emmanuel Macron to restore our tricolor flag next to that of Europe under the Arc de Triomphe. We owe it to all our fighters who shed their blood for him.”
Making a similar claim to Le Pen, her argument that Macron is attempting to “erase French identity” by placing a European flag where there was no other flag the day before, was intended to play on the fears that many in France have of French identity dying a slow death, or being replaced in a somewhat grand fashion. She is also leaning into the right’s usual credential of being a defender of the armed forces, hinting (not so subtly) that the President is forgetting what we all owe to the soldiers who died defending our country.
Not one to let himself fall behind his far-right wing rivals, Eric Zemmour lept into the fray with a far less eloquent tweet: “The Arc de Triomphe under Macron: after the sacking and packaging, the contempt.”
Now, bringing us back to what I mentioned about the French flag not being a permanent fixture on the Arc de Triomphe, I’m sure you’re all asking yourself “why?”. Why are these Presidential candidates making such a big deal about a temporary fixture celebrating the beginning of a six-month leadership role in the EU that coincides with the new year?
Well, dear reader, you’re in the right place!
Marine Le Pen has built a position as Macron’s “primary” opposition but has been less present than she would have liked over the course of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and as a result she currently finds herself under a lot of pressure.
Despite being the most likely (right now) to reach the second round and compete with Emmanuel Macron, she finds herself competing with Far-Right, sovereignist candidate Eric Zemmour who is beginning to eat into her hard-line positions immigration, Islam’s place in France and national identity.
For Valérie Pécresse, she is having to balance her position as a right-wing “pro-European” candidate whose more right-wing, Thatcherite/Merkel-like economic policy, restrictive immigration policies are having to compete with the two far-right challengers.
When it comes to Eric Zemmor, it’s far more simple, however. With a flagging campaign, falling polling numbers, potential funding issues, and potentially even difficulty in getting all of the sponsorships required to even be an official candidate, he needs to do everything within his power to fight his way onto the list for the 10th April vote.
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Is this going to move the needle at all?
The likelihood of this having an impact on upcoming polls and the upcoming election is very low, and this will likely have a low impact in general. Mostly everyone who displayed outrage at the European flag being displayed was speaking to their own base, and defending their turf against those who may be able to impact their position.
Those who position themselves as pro-Europeans and defended the flag being hung mainly defended their position as pro-Europeans, just as those who denigrated this act as a national disgrace spoke mainly to those who were always against what is frequently derided as a globalist politic that comes at the expense of the common French man.
This will, to some extent, reinforce the positions of Zemmour and Le Pen, who have frequently taken aim at what they call the European Union’s oversized position in the world and in French politics, and may or may not have helped or harmed Pécresse in allowing her to claim a position as someone who is pro-Europe but more pro-France, while potentially scaring off those who hoped she would become more moderate to appeal to those more likely to vote for Macron.
However, the rather boring reality of flag-gate is that, really, this was polemics for the sake of polemics, and the only way that people benefited from the situation was by reminding everybody else of how pro- or anti- flags/France/the EU/the Arc de Triomphe they truly are.