Europe is facing unprecedented challenges with divisions along multiple fault-lines; Brexit, increasing nationalism and a general fascination with anti-liberal ideas. Macron, whose Presidency is proof that the strongest populist threats can be overcome, is probably Europe’s last hope. Therefore, his speech in the European Parliament on the future of Europe was preceded by high expectations, which he matched with high ambitions.
He made clear from the very beginning that the EU only has a future if it stays together and speaks with one voice. But how can the “old continent” find its role in the multilateral global context and amidst all the current difficulties? For Macron the solution lies in courage and self-confidence; not in self-doubt. He wants Europe to become an international power that can influence the debate. He wants an EU that does not relinquish its convictions, model or identity.
President Macron based his vision on the necessity of European sovereignty (“not just an abstract idea”). For him, European sovereignty is about territory, finance, commerce, digital revolution, energy and food. And it is very much a social sovereignty.
He also set out the next steps to realise his notion of European sovereignty. Firstly, concrete results on migration and in particular financial support to local authorities that host and integrate refugees. Secondly, digital revolution and digital taxation. The Commission’s proposal related to digital taxation should terminate the excesses of companies that make huge profits in the digital space without paying an appropriate level of taxes. Thirdly, the reform of the EMU is also essential and the Banking Union needs to be achieved fully. Overall, further budget capacity is needed, and France is willing to increase its contribution. No level of ambition should be too high (France will work in that direction).
Macron’s speech comes at a critical time with the European elections approaching. He left no doubt that the future of Europe is at stake and he brought emotions and gravitas into the hemicycle that are so often lacking in debates about Europe. Macron’s passion could very well help to stimulate a real debate about the future of Europe, not only in Brussels but also in the Member States. Macron is clear that European citizens must understand what is at stake, what the options are for the future and that securing this future will require courageous decisions.
Macron made this point fervently: “We suffer the luxury of forgetting the experience of our ancestors. I do not want to belong to a generation that has forgotten its own past. I want to belong to a generation that will defend the EU sovereignty”.
From Strasbourg by Borja de Pedro and Matteo Ferlone, FTI Consulting Brussels