Trade policy was not a central topic in the campaign in the run-up to the first round of French presidential elections on Sunday (23 April) which propelled 39-old Emmanuel Macron to first place, ahead of the populist Eurosceptic Marine Le Pen.
What would France’s approach be to the EU’s trade policy under Macron is still an open question. Signs are it will likely be a story of free trade with strings attached.
The current French political debate is often framed as one between globalism vs retrenchment behind borders, and European integration vs nationalism. The party-outsider Emmanuel Macron who put together a centrist movement that helped topple France’s two mainstream parties – the socialist party and the centre-right Les Républicains – is seen as the one who stands on the side of openness in a crisis-ridden France tempted by nationalist retrenchment.
“Macron is the only candidate who defended CETA”, Elvire Fabry, senior researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute noted in a conversation with Borderlex in Paris. Centre-right François Fillon rejected CETA.
Macron has also signalled he is favourable toTTIP, whereas Fillon called for a halt to the transatlantic trade talks in 2016.
“I think Macron will remain favourable to an active but progressive trade policy. It’s coherent with his vision of a Europe that embraces the world, and of a France that weighs more in the Council”, reckons Fabry.
His entire programme is about involving civil society more closely in decision-making. Though his economic plans focus on making life easier for business, other aspects of his programme are about upholding stringent social and environmental norms. Macron also wants to tackle tax evasion and see the EU do more on this issue.
“Macron’s narrative insists less on why we need opennes but more on the conditions for this openness”, says Elvire Fabry.
So, what do we know of Macron’s concrete plans and vision on trade?
The presidential hopeful’s seventeen-page programme does not mention European trade policy per se. It includes however a a few striking proposals that will resonate in future EU trade policy: local content requirements in public procurement and investment controls.
“We will reserve access to public procurement markets to companies that localise half their production in Europe in the context of a Buy European Act”, the brochure says.
Further: “We want a mechanism to control foreign investments to preserve our strategic sectors.”
Macron is also sensitive to the idea that trade defence instruments should be tough and has expressed a desire for Europe to have US-style levels of antidumping duties – which can be as high as 300 percent of the value of a product.
Other proposals are more favourable to seamless trade, notably within the EU. This is part of his pledge to make business life easier.
“We will not add new national norms to European norms in the area of agriculture and fisheries”, Macron’s programme reads. That will be music to ears of foreign businesses who grapple with France’s many labelling and other requirements.
Macron’s programme also says: “We will create a single digital market in Europe”, including a fund to finance European start-ups.