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France’s influence in Europe: Can we still believe in it?

Date

16 Apr 2008

Sections

Public Affairs
EU Priorities 2020

Ahead of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union to start on 1 July of this year, the last in current Troika framework, Hill & Knowlton has today presented the findings of an opinion poll measuring French perception of their country’s influence in the European Union. The survey was conducted by the Opinion Way Institute and based on a representative cross-section of the French population.

Driven by President Sarkozy, the French government is looking to use this presidency as a springboard for France’s renewed leadership role in Europe. To help shed some light on the forthcoming French Presidency and on France’s role within the EU, Hill & Knowlton has invited Pierre Lequiller, Deputy of Yvelines and President of the National Assembly Delegation to the European Union, and Georges de la Loyère, Member of the Economic and Social Council and CNIL Commissioner in charge of the European and international affairs sector, to evaluate the findings of the opinion poll presented by Bruno Jeanbart, Director of Political Studies at the Opinion Way Institute.

Main findings

Out of the 27 Member States, the French only consider 16 countries to have an influential role in Europe, with Germany (72%), France (14%) and the United Kingdom (8%) ranked as the top three. Respondents believe that Germany in particular is an economic, political and demographic force, as well as the only true supporter of the Union (as it was one of the few countries to have approved the Constitution). Germany’s influence is further underpinned by the Chancellor’s initiative. French citizens place Germany far ahead of the other EU countries as the most influential in Europe.

The survey’s respondents consider France the second most influential country in Europe, behind Germany, due to their “slightly unfavourable” perception of French influence over the past five years. Based on the interviews conducted, 44% of French citizens believe that French influence has decreased, whereas 41% think that it has remained unchanged, citing the country’s history and its geographical situation as contributing factors. This pessimistic opinion was higher among older respondents.

However, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy seems to modify this pessimistic perception: 32% of those questioned think that France’s influence in Europe has increased since last May, compared to 22% who think that it has decreased.

The areas where France is perceived to have the most influence are foreign policy, defence and security, agriculture, cultural affairs and the environment. Nevertheless, respondents found that the most important areas of influence are the economy, monetary policy, the labour market and foreign policy. Thus, the survey has found that France’s role in Europe remains important regarding international issues, but is weaker regarding key economic issues, which are perceived as of major importance in the EU.

In this regard, the efforts of French companies to secure their influence in Europe are generally perceived as negative: 70% of interviewees estimate that French companies do not do what is needed to influence the decisions made by the European Union.

Stéphane Billiet, President of Hill & Knowlton Paris, points out that, “Regarding the companies’ engagement with European institutions, only 15% of respondents mention the setting-up of offices in Brussels as a desired means of influence. This result is interesting given that 65% of French citizens prefer for their national companies to consult with other European firms in their respective sectors to present and defend a common position on the issues that concern them. It is clear that the French prefer a collective approach, certainly important but less effective in defending individual interests.”

Philippe Blanchard, Director of the Public Affairs Practice for Europe and Managing Director of Public Affairs at Hill & Knowlton Brussels, sees in Germany’s ranking as the most influential country, “A still limited understanding by the French of the decision-making mechanisms of the European Union and their dynamics. The last enlargement process to 27 Member States has largely diluted the influence of the Franco-German partnership. President Sarkozy’s policy of exploring new alliances with more “Atlanticist” countries such as Poland and the UK will have to be explained to the French.”

Notes to editors
Find the complete results as well as the methodology of the study in the document produced by Opinion Way for Hill & Knowlton

About Hill & Knowlton
Hill & Knowlton (www.hillandknolton.com) is a leading international communications consultancy, providing services to local, multinational and global clients. The firm is headquartered in New York and has 72 offices in 41 countries as well as an extensive associate network. H&K is part of WPP (NASDAQ:WPPGY), one of the world’s largest communications services group.

About WPP
WPP (NASDAQ: WPPGY) is one of the world’s leading communications services group, providing national, multi-national and global clients with advertising; media investment management; information, insight & consultancy; public relations & public affairs; branding & identity; healthcare communications, direct, digital, promotion & relationship marketing. Collectively, WPP employs 102,000 people (including associates) in over 2,000 offices in 106 countries.

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