Macron calls for 'European sovereignty' to combat authoritarianism in speech at European Parliament

Speaking at the European Parliament on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed establishing an EU fund to help those communities taking in refugees and called for "European sovereignty" in the face of rising authoritarianism.

Sebastien Bozon, AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron addresses EU lawmakers in Strasbourg on April 17, 2018.

In his first address to EU lawmakers, the europhile French leader said a robust democracy is the "best chance" for the European Union to fight against rising nationalism on the continent.

He called for a renewed sense of "European sovereignty" in the face of increasing authoritarianism in some EU countries, warning that there was a "sort of European civil war" brewing and "a fascination with the illiberal" that is "growing all the time".

"Faced with authoritarianism, the answer is not democratic authoritarianism but the authority of democracy," Macron said, urging EU countries to defend the values of liberty, equality and diversity that underpin the European model – one he described as "unique in the world".

"I don't want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers, I don't want to belong to a generation that's forgotten its own past," the 40-year-old president added.

Macron's speech was part of a charm offensive ahead of European Parliament elections in May 2019, the first after Britain's exit from the 28-member bloc.

He told EU lawmakers it is important "to have a democratic, critical debate on what Europe is about" ahead of the European elections, adding that EU citizens "want a new project" for Europe that addresses their concerns and fears.

France's youthful president, who will travel to Berlin later in the week for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is pushing for sweeping reform in the face of growing scepticism about the European project.

His call to arms comes after eurosceptic and populist parties won elections in Hungary and Italy in recent weeks, and as Brussels confronts Poland's right-wing government over the rule of law.

In addition to divisions within its ranks, the EU is also grappling with the war in Syria, a hostile Russia and the unpredictable policies of Donald Trump in the United States.

On the sensitive subject of immigration, which has driven a wedge between Brussels and several member states, Macron proposed setting up an EU fund to help communities that agree to welcome refugees.

"I propose creating a European programme that gives direct financial support to local communities that welcome and integrate refugees," Macron said.

The French president called for an "urgent road map" for reforming the eurozone and said France was ready to increase its financial contributions as long as they are used more efficiently.

He also renewed his push for an EU carbon tax designed to fight climate change and proposed a new levy on the digital economy to help finance the EU budget once Britain has left the bloc.

His speech was welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who told parliament afterwards: "The true France is back."

"It’s not obvious right now – if you look at the populists, the resurgence of the far right, and the rampant euroscepticism – to make a speech like this,” said Douglas Herbert, FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor, describing the address as “signature Emmanuel Macron”.

Herbert added: “Macron, especially when it comes to Europe, has never been one to shy away from a challenge.”

The French president’s speech was welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who told European lawmakers afterwards: "The true France is back."

However, Macron now faces a tall order securing support for his ambitious reform agenda, including in the European legislature, where his fledgling La République en marche (Republic on the move) party still has no formal representation.

Analysts have warned that the French president may also struggle to sway conservative supporters of Germany’s Merkel, who are pushing back against attempts to give Brussels more power amid rising euroscepticism in the bloc’s economic powerhouse.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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