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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 doubtless reelection bid — after which alongside got here Omicron.

Now, uncertainty surrounding in-person occasions, optimistic checks 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.

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

“The necessary factor to recollect is that on this tough sanitary state of affairs, we’ve got 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 file excessive.

The Omicron wave will doubtless 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. 

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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 indicate French residents exterior 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 probably the most pro-EU agenda.

A foul 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 beneath the Arc de Triomphe over the weekend.

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The hoisting of the EU flag (and never the French one) was meant to mark the start of the EU presidency however rapidly grew to become a struggle 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 high 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 part takes place in individual, 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 individual till that date, and authorities will reconvene each two weeks to determine on the best way 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 response to two French officers. 

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

“The problem stays to show … 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 each day disaster” made it more durable to get that message throughout, however highlighted it was as much as politicians to indicate those that the response to the pandemic is efficient at European, in addition to nationwide, stage.

The group of occasions in cities all around the nation was additionally designed to assist Macron get nearer to native mayors from events that might grow to be 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 top of January — is the secretary-general of Horizons, the brand new occasion of the French president’s frenemy and former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe. Toulouse, the place the annual Digital Meeting is about to happen in June, can also be run by a politician close to Philippe.

Based on 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 presently up for consideration by the EU in time for the election. Subjects such because the minimal wage, the border-free Schengen zone and the carbon border tax all resonate with French public opinion.

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

“It’s tough 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 youngsters if the colleges 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 hold you on high of the subjects driving the well being care coverage agenda. E-mail [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

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