French President Macron presents vision of post-Brexit Europe
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French President Emmanuel Macron called on Tuesday for a common European defence force and budget, as well as common asylum offices, border police, financial transaction tax and carbon tax, in a wide-ranging speech setting out his vision for Europe.
Addressing students from several European countries at the Sorbonne University in Paris, Macron began by describing Europe as “an idea carried by optimists and visionaries” while noting that now the idea is “more fragile than ever.”
The French president framed the present in the history of post-war European integration, saying that Europeans are “heirs of two major world wars” that “should have plunged the continent into darkness”, but “we have overcome this pain without forgetting lessons.”
He said that the EU is “too inefficient and too slow”; however, “only Europe can allow us to exist in this changing world”.
'Safety is not just bombs and Kalashnikovs'
With “safety” the “first” priority and Europe facing the “progressive disengagement of the US” as well as a “sustainable terrorist phenomenon”, Macron proposed a “common intervention force, common budget and common doctrine to act”. He also proposed bringing soldiers from across Europe into national armies, vowing to “welcome into the French army soldiers from all over Europe”.
In addition, Macron called for a “European intelligence academy” with “shared information and shared training cultures.”
Moving onto the migrant crisis with the line “safety is not just bombs and Kalashnikovs”, the French president proposed an “asylum office at the European level” alongside a “European border police” to carry out “strict border control”.
Noting “development of source countries” as an important task, and describing Africa as a “strategic partner”, Macron called for increased European aid to be paid for with an EU-wide financial transaction tax. As Paris already levies this tax, the president stated that he is “willing to give the proceeds of the French tax to Europe”.
Macron also focused on climate change as an area on which the EU is currently “in a bit of a limbo”. On this issue, the bloc should be “leaders of a new societal or civilizational model”, he ventured, while proposing to take the continent in that direction with a “harmonised price of carbon”. It “must be high enough to foster transition”; “under 20 to 30 carbon tons won’t be effective.”
The French president also called for a “European carbon border tax”, so that “industrial companies most exposed to globalisation” are “on equal footing with other parts of the world.” To deal with the consequences of climate change today, Macron proposed a common European “protection force against natural disasters”.
Macron went on to ask if the Common Agricultural Policy “protects farmers and consumers”, before responding: “that’s not my feeling”. He acknowledged that the issue is a “French taboo”, at the same time as saying that a European farming policy “should protect farmers’ revenues” while “protecting against large scale crises”.
'Grab the bull by its horns'
Macron then sounded a signature note, as he asked his European counterparts to “grab the bull by its horns” to “attract digital talent”. He said the digital transformation gives Europe “so much to gain” but also “so much to lose” – and on this issue, as with the others he discussed, “Europe must reconcile safety, equality and liberty.”
Later, the French president highlighted the importance of Europe’s axis between Paris and Berlin. Referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he said that "We share the same European ambitions and I know her commitment to Europe. I'm proposing to Germany a new partnership. We will not agree on everything, not immediately, but we will discuss everything."
Macron followed that with a big proposal to take the Franco-German axis further: "Why not set ourselves the objective that by 2024 we totally integrate our markets by applying the same rules to our companies, from corporate law to bankruptcy regulation?"
Looking outwards, he also pressed for a “simplified” Europe, open to expansion into the Balkans, leaving a place open for the UK if it changes its mind about Brexit, and streamlining the European Commission by halving the number of commissioners from 30 to 15.
FRANCE 24 European Affairs Editor Catherine Nicholson described this as a “sweeping speech” and a “sweeping defence of the European project” against “fears abounding in Europe”.
But only the future will tell whether or not Macron’s European vision will become a reality.