French President addressing EU Parliament in a call for a renewed European sovereignty
“European people have not given up on Europe”. Less than a year is left before the date of UK official exit from the Union. Moreover, next year the first EU parliamentary elections after Brexit will be held. Different sentiments of criticism towards the European project are widespread. Still, “people have not given up on Europe and more than ever we must listen to the anger of the public”, affirmed the French President Emmanuel Macron during his address to the European Parliament on April, 17th. No place would have probably been more appropriate than Strasbourg. The European leader defined the Union as a “miracle, a unique model in the world that is not dated or abstract and that we must thus keep alive”.
In his heartfelt defence of the EU, Macron wanted to warn about the several pressing challenges, such as geopolitical instability, defence, technological and climate change, migration, security, innovation, privacy protection, trade and financial policies that are mining its survival and consequently. He stressed the urgent necessity of a series of reforms. Underlining the EU commitment to protect health and climate, the French President called indeed for a greater effort in the compliance with Paris Agreement standards and more funding to the defence sector. Furthermore, he launched a more focused debate on migration (in which regard he proposed the creation of “a European program to directly financially support local communities that welcome and integrate refugees"). Finally, he designed a roadmap to reform the banking system and the monetary union. For instance, he mentioned the creation of a budgetary capacity aimed at fostering stability and convergence in the Eurozone.
Nevertheless, besides this crucial set of questions, what really springs up from the speech is Macron’s denunciation of the fact that “there seems to be a certain European civil war, where national selfishness and negativity seem to take precedence over what brings us together”. Moreover, he mentioned the rise of populism (evident in the results of last Italian and Hungarian national elections). In his opinion, a growing fascination with the illiberal extremely worrying threats to the EU survival is spreading. Finally, he stressed a pressing call for a European greater sense of responsibility on a global scale.
In fact, according to the French President, there are actually two single solutions for the EU to overcome this struggle: the building of a proper EU-wide sovereignty which would complement the one of individual member states, and the re-affirmation of democracy as a mirror of the Union original values. Concerning the former, he stressed the necessity for the construction of “a feeling of belonging, able to make us not just a generation of sleepwalkers”. This should be achieved through the spreading of a European culture “that entails passion and attachment for freedom and ideas”. In his vision, education, in particular universities and international exchanges, plays a key role. “To cope with upheavals worldwide, we indeed need a sovereignty that is greater than our own, but which complements it”. Macron images this sovereignty to be disentangled into many different forms, like the economic and digital one, but also for example a “support for the quality of food” sovereignty. Along with this, “in these difficult times, where we see authoritarians all around us, the worst possible mistake is to give up on democracy. European democracy is indeed our best chance and the answer is not authoritarian democracy, but the authority of democracy”, affirmed the President. The Parliament is certainly the best recipient of a call of this kind, aimed at supporting a “struggle to defend our ideals, meaning a democracy that respects individual minority fundamental rights, and to fight the deadly tendency which might lead our continent to the abyss, nationalism, giving up of freedom”. In fact, as Macron clearly highlighted, “the European Parliament is the seat of Europe’s legitimacy, its responsibility and hence its vitality. It is here that part of Europe’s future is being played out.” This stance could assume a particular significance if inserted in the context of an increasing importance and authority of the Parliament. This process started with the Lisbon Treaty as a response to allegations of democratic deficit in the EU decision-making processes. Furthermore, it has to be stressed that what the European leader has in mind is a living democracy that “lets people decide”, a democracy made of debates with a generation of people that sincerely defend and believe in European sovereignty, in light of the fact that “If Europe ignores the people, the people will ignore Europe”.
To conclude, it is remarkable to emphasise the disputable level of coherence between Macron’s speech and France recent international relations, in particular with respect to the US and Germany. In the first case, the French President wanted to decry the growing gap between the EU and the values propagated by the current US administration. He explained how “we share so much with this country, but this country is rejecting multilateralism, free trade, and climate change”. Still, the clash between this declaration and the French military intervention in Syria in support of US strikes taking place just few days before is evident. Concerning the second one, a clear contrast between Macron’s call for a widespread and unified European sovereignty and the Franco-German leadership in the recent EU path of reforms emerges clearly. As Parliament’s EPP group Chair, Manfred Weber, indeed stated, “The European Parliament is the place to discuss and decide the future of Europe. The Franco-German axis is important, but Europe is much more”. The current predominance of Macron-Markel axis in the European policy framework is in this sense clearly emerging even from the words of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who, welcoming Macron’s speech, noted how Macron’s election victory last year gave "new hope" to the EU because "the true France is back". Still, he wanted at the same time to warn that the EU was an "ensemble" and not just a duo made up of Germany and France.