France’s president Emmanuel Macron urged reforms to address concerns and fears of EU citizens in a speech aimed at boosting the EU unity amidst a string of crisis.
Speaking to EU lawmakers in Strasbourg on Tuesday, he urged the deputies to create a “proper debate on convictions and proposals” and make the “EU democracy come alive” as the bloc starts its preparations for the May 2019 vote. The upcoming parliamentary vote is the first EU-wide election since the UK voted to leave the union.
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European people “have not given up on Europe,” Macron said in an emotionally charged address on Tuesday.
The French leader called for a debate on migration, a roadmap to eurozone reform, reforming the banking system, and a EU-wide sovereignty which would compliment the sovereignty of individual member states.
“We need to build this EU-wide sovereignty to protect our citizens in terms of internal and external defense and security,” he said.
‘Wost possible mistake’ to give up on democracy
Macron’s described the EU democracy and unity as a “treasure”
He also proposed creating a European program to “directly financially support local communities that welcome and integrate refugees.”
The 40-year-old Macron also pointed at the rise of populism inside the EU, following reflected in the outcome of recent elections in Italy and Hungary.
The rapid changes in the today’s world require politicians to change their ways, but this must not mean a rejection of democracy, he added.
“Indeed, in these difficult times, the European democracy is our best chance,” Macron said. “The worst possible mistake would be to give up on our model and our identity.”
“We see authoritarians all around us, and the answer is not authoritarian democracy, but the authority of democracy,” he said.
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US moving away from EU values
Macron also decried the tendency to blame national failings on Brussels and avoid discussion on EU future.
“To carry on in this manner is a fool’s game, which may be more comfortable for us to engage in, but nothing will be resolved in this way,” Macron said.
The French president also decried the growing gap between the EU and the values propagated by the current US administration.
“We share so much with this country, but this country is rejecting multilateralism, free trade, and climate change,” he said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed Macron’s speech, noting that his election victory last year gave “new hope” to the EU.
“The true France is back,” Juncker said on Tuesday.
At the same time however, he warned that the EU was an “ensemble” and not just a club made up of Germany and France.
Waiting for Berlin
Macron previously spoke at length about his vision for a closer EU in Sorbonne some six months ago, where he urged a joint eurozone budget and an introduction of an EU finance minister. Among other steps, he also called for a joint asylum office, an aligning of national tax systems, and an EU-wide innovations office. France’s leader also suggested creating an EU rapid response force.
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However, Macron was forced to delay its plans over the elections in France’s most important EU ally, Germany, and the unusually long talks on forming the government in Berlin. Even after the new German government took office, Berlin officials seem cautious on reforms proposed by Macron.
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The French president is set to meet Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday in Berlin. Last month, the two leaders pledged to bridge their differences and come up with a joint roadmap for reforms by June.
dj/rc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)