Summary and Keywords
The European Union (EU) is a multilevel governance whose dynamics of change cannot be understood outside the perspective of each member state. France has contributed to the politics and policies of the EU, but the EU has also had an impact on French domestic politics and policies. As a founding member state of the European Communities (EC), France has played since the 1950s a major role in the development of European institutions, policies, and reforms leading to the EU. France has also, however, always had a paradoxical position regarding the institutional design of the EU. On one side, France has supported the principle of supranationality in the economic areas of EU integration (market and monetary policy). On the other side, it has preferred the intergovernmental method for foreign policy and defense. France’s influence in the EU was for a long time exercised in co-leadership with Germany. The return of Germany to full sovereignty after its reunification, the enlargements of the EU toward the East, and a growing asymmetry between French and German economies made the Franco-German partnership less central in the 1990s. France’s influence on Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) has diminished to the benefit of Germany, while it has remained central for the definition of a EU foreign and security policy. Like most of the EU member states, France has also to cope domestically with a growing politicization of the EU issue in the domestic context since the middle of the 1990s. Opposition to the EU has arisen among French public opinion and has restrained the autonomy of the French executive (president of the republic and government) in the EU negotiations. The dominant narrative in France about EU membership has four main components: being a founding member state, being a big member state, co-leading the EU with Germany, and making sure that the EU maximizes the French national interest. The relationships of the main French institutional actors with the EU focus on the president of the Republic, the prime minister, and the National Parliament, as well as major national courts and interest groups. The political debates on the EU in the French public sphere involve the mainstream political parties, the rise of Euroskepticism, the referendum campaigns on EU issues, and general trends in the public opinion. France’s contributions to the main EU policies include membership in the EMU, the commitment to the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the attitudes toward the enlargement processes, and the future of the EU institutional reforms.
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