The European Union needs a new collective security pact to deal with NATO and Russia, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday.
"Europe today is confronted with escalating tension on our borders," Macron said in a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
"As Europeans, we need to collectively make our own demands and put ourselves in a position to enforce them," he added.
France took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union at the start of the year.
The French proposal intends to "create together a European power of the future ... an independent Europe that has given itself the means to decide its own future and not rely on the decisions of other major powers," he said.
France intends to create a new "security framework" during the presidency. "We need to build it between us, Europeans, share it with our allies in NATO, and propose it for negotiation to Russia," Macron said.
The EU was not directly involved in talks with Moscow over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine as tens of thousands of Russian troops amass on the country's border.
Katarina Barley, a vice president of the European Parliament and a member of Germany's Social Democrats, told DW that the EU "does not have an original competence in foreign policy."
"We are actually a group of 27 member states and their interests, who unite to have a common foreign policy. And that is a weakness at times because reactions are sometimes not as quick and as firm as a single member state can give them," she said.
"But, on the other hand," she said, "we have such a variety of historical experiences, of networks, that we should turn this into our strength and be, as a European Union, one of the forces that really contributes to dialogue, and to search a solution for this conflict that is actually in a very crucial phase at the moment."
The European Union has been threatening "severe consequences" should Russia invade Ukraine. However, these consequences have not been laid out.
"There are discussions about reacting at the level of the SWIFT accord, which is the question of Russia being part of the international banking system. Imagine if Russian companies, the Russian government, Russian oligarchs would not be able anymore to exchange their money with other states," Barley said. "That would be a huge impact on the Russian economy. And this, for example, is a threat but is on the table."
France to add abortion, climate protection to EU Charter
Looking inward, Macron told lawmakers that France would push to include the right to abortion and defense of the environment in the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.
"Let us open up this debate freely with our fellow citizens ... to breathe new life into the pillar of law that forges this Europe of strong values," he said.
It comes just a day after the parliament elected Malta's Roberta Metsola, a staunch abortion opponent, as its president.
Macron said the European Union needed to "move from words to deeds, transforming our industries in investing in new technologies" to prevent climate change.
A new deal with Africa
France plans to forge a new EU alliance with African countries. Macron said he would host an EU-African Union summit for that purpose next month.
"We can't just look at the subject of migration without looking at the deep-rooted causes and see that we have a common destiny with the African continent. We want our African friends to allow us to help them," Macron said.
He also touched on the bloc's relationship with the United Kingdom in the post-Brexit era.
"Nothing will call into question the bond of friendship which connects us to our British friends," he said.
He, however, insisted that the United Kingdom stick to the Brexit agreement, especially regarding fishing and the Northern Ireland protocol.
French elections just down the road
Macron faces an election challenge, with polls scheduled for April 10 and 24.
France's EU presidency comes at a beneficial time for Macron politically, as it is a chance for him to showcase France as a European power.
Macron is expected to formally announce his reelection bid in February.
Some French lawmakers suggested that Macron used his remarks on Wednesday to promote his candidacy rather than EU issues.
French Greens lawmaker Yannick Jadot, who is running in France's presidential election, told Macron: "You undoubtedly made a nice speech ... except you have been presiding over France for five years. You must be held accountable," Jadot said. "You will go down in history as the president of climate inaction."
Jordan Bardella, an EU lawmaker and member of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally party, also criticized Macron: "The presidential election will decide the future of France, but also the future of the whole Europe. How can you claim you'll bring Europe together when you have been until the end the one widening divisions in France?''
Stephane Sejourne, an EU lawmaker from Macron's party, said: "What a shame to transform [the European Parliament] into the [French] National Assembly."
fb, lo/rc (AFP, Reuters)