France targets Big Tech in its Presidency of the Council of the European Union
Since 1 January 2022, for the first time in 14 years, France presides over the Council of the European Union (EU). At a time where the EU is facing many challenges, such as COVID-19, climate change, the EU’s role in NATO and the loss of Angela Merkel as Europe’s leading woman, all eyes will be on 'founding father' France. French President Emmanuel Macron’s domestic pressures are also in the mix, as he is up for re-election this spring.
At the start of France’s Presidency, we look closely at France’s plans, which seem to focus on Big Tech in particular.
On 1 January 2022, France took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU (the Council) from Slovenia. It will be the 13th French Presidency, but its first since the Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1 December 2009.
What does the Council do?
In the Council, government ministers from each EU member state meet to discuss, amend and adopt laws, and coordinate policies. Importantly, ministers have the authority to commit their governments to the actions agreed in the meetings. The Council serves as the co-legislator of the EU, along with the European Parliament and also has budgetary powers.
The Member State holding the Presidency of the Council oversees meetings, brokering compromises, submitting conclusions and ensuring the coherence and continuity of the decision-making process. It ensures good cooperation between all Member States and acts as a liaison between the Council and the European institutions, in particular the Commission and European Parliament. Each Member State holds the Presidency for six months.
France has an ambitious plan for the Presidency and hopes to push a number of key issues over the next six months. Its plans are under the umbrella of three aims for its Presidency: a more sovereign Europe, a new European model for growth and a humane Europe. They are in line with the broader programme of the trio of presidencies which France has co-developed with the upcoming Czech and Swedish presidencies.
Focus on Big Tech
What France’s ambitions will mean for competition law in general is yet to be seen. It has announced only somewhat vague ambitions to pursue “a new European model for growth”, which aims to make Europe a land of production, job creation, innovation and technological excellence; in which economic development is aligned with climate goals; that supports innovation and the growth of European digital players and sets its own rules for the digital world; and that offers high-quality, high‑skilled and better-paying jobs.
However vague France’s ambitions on competition law in general remain, it has become clear that France will prioritise the reform of the digital world. In a statement to mark the French Presidency launch President Macron said, "the French presidency must be a moment of truth for the regulation and accountability of digital platforms".
It seems France will look no further than what is already on the EU table: the draft Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA). Having been a vocal advocate for further strengthening the EU’s framework for the digital economy over the last few years, France seems set to try to push forward the negotiations for the EU’s draft framework for content and market abuse in digital markets.
The DSA aims to introduce a legal framework applying to content moderation by digital platforms and to increased obligations for online marketplaces. The DMA will give the EU ex-ante tools to regulate “gatekeepers” in the digital market, for example by forcing these gatekeepers to allow third parties to inter-operate with the gatekeeper’s own services in certain specific situations, which France has stated will “ensure that digital markets are contestable and fair”.
It is expected that France will try to get these drafts adopted before the French elections in April, so as to reap maximum political benefit domestically. So far France seems likely to succeed in this timetable, as it was announced that the final negotiations for the DMA start this week. In any event, the first few months of this EU Presidency will be crucial to whether the French will succeed in their ambitious plans.
Only time will tell whether the French Presidency will achieve a real hour of reckoning for Big Tech this year.