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Macron sets out vision for EU

September 26, 2017

Emmanuel Macron says EU members must forge a common path. France's president has set out his vision for a rebooted European Union, targeting skeptical German politicians who made strong gains in Sunday's elections.

Frankreich Emmanuel Macron, Präsident | Präsentation Europäische Initiative in Paris
Image: Reuters/L. Marin

On Tuesday, Emmanuel Macron said Germany and France had overcome the legacy of two world wars together and alongside their partners could improve the European Union together. The former economy minister took power as France's president in May, promising to strengthen the eurozone and deepen EU integration as the bloc prepares for Britain's departure. He has already begun to undertake an aggressive neoliberal agenda in France.  

"Here we are with a Europe that is more fragile than ever bearing the brunt of globalization as we know it and falling victim to ideas like nationalism and identitarianism," Macron said in a heavily anticipated speech delivered at Paris-Sorbonne University on Tuesday. "The dangers, the ideas of the past are growing once more," he added, alluding to the growing power of the far right in EU nations.

Read more - Macron's EU vision meets Merkel's realities

Macron has grown desperate to receive German Chancellor Angela Merkel's endorsement of his agenda, which includes plans to give the 19-member eurozone a finance minister, budget and a parliament independent of the 28-country EU's existing 750-seat transnational legislature. But Macron's plans received a blow on Sunday, with the shock result of the elections in Germany, where the anti-immigration, euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) emerged as the parliament's third-largest party.

Since Sunday, Macron has spoken twice with Merkel, as well as other EU leaders and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker — who does not support the idea of a separate eurozone budget or parliament. Merkel does not oppose having a eurozone finance minister, but differs with Macron on how powerful to make the role.

'It's a lie'

Macron used his speech to argue for institutional changes, initiatives to promote the EU, and new ventures in the technology, defense and energy sectors. He called for fellow EU leaders to pay attention to domestic needs but not to forsake the bloc in doing so and suggested that countries could integrate foreign soldiers into their armies as France will.

Read more - Macron: More Europe, please

Macron also called for a common tax on carbon emissions, as well as increasing investments into "development" projects in regions such as Africa.  

"It's a lie that hunkering down on your own country is ever going to be a successful path," Macron said on Tuesday. "Let us be bold together and try this new path." 

Along with Brexit and Germany's elections, Macron's proposals will likely top the agenda at a two-day summit of the 28 EU members in Estonia starting on Thursday. Germany's cooperation will prove essential, though Macron also needs to convince other EU partners.

German politicians respond

An early response to Macron's speech came from Germany's laissez-faire Free Democrats (FDP), potential partners to Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats in any future coalition government. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the top Free Democrat in the European Parliament, said he welcomed Macron's call to strengthen EU military cooperation and digitization, but he rejected the idea of a joint eurozone budget.

"This was a courageous speech by President Macron, even if not all of his proposals will receive the approval of the FDP," Lambsdorff said on Tuesday. "The problem in Europe is not a lack of public funds, but a lack of reform," he added. "A eurozone budget would set exactly the wrong incentives."

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, whose Social Democrats intend to lead the opposition under Germany's next government in a bid to curb the influence of the newly-elected far-right AfD, was more generous in his assessment of the speech, saying in a statement that Macron had delivered "a passionate argument against nationalism."

"Only with common solutions can we inspire the people in Europe again about Europe," Gabriel said in his statement. However, he added, "we also need the common European will." 

mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)