Macron dreams big, says EU too slow and blind to rising nationalism

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 26.09.2017 23:50
Updated 26.09.2017 23:57
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to set out plans for reforming the European Union at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, September 26, 2017. (Reuters Photo)
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to set out plans for reforming the European Union at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, September 26, 2017. (Reuters Photo)

Calling Europe slow, weak and ineffective, French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said the EU should embrace a joint budget, shared military force and harmonized taxes to stay globally relevant.

With Brexit looming, Macron warned the rest of Europe against the dangers of anti-immigrant nationalism and fragmentation, saying it goes against the principles of a shared Europe born from the tragedy of world wars.

"We thought the past would not come back ... we thought we had learned the lessons," Macron told a crowd of European students at the Sorbonne university Tuesday.

After a far-right party entered the German parliament for the first time in 60 years, Macron said this isolationist attitude has resurfaced "because of blindness ... because we forgot to defend Europe."

"The Europe that we know is too slow, too weak, too ineffective," he said.

To change that, he proposed a joint budget for European countries sharing the euro currency that would allow investment in European projects and help stabilize the eurozone in case of economic crisis. This budget would at some point need to come from national budgets of countries sharing the euro currency, for instance using domestic taxes on businesses.

Macron said the only way to make Europe strong in a globalized world is to reshape "a sovereign, united and democratic Europe."

Macron is desperate for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's endorsement of his reform agenda, but his plans were dealt a blow by Sunday's election in Germany that saw eurosceptic parties make gains.

Merkel must now try to form a government likely to include the Free Democratic Party (FDP), whose leader Christian Lindner is an outspoken critic of Macron's European agenda and who considers a eurozone budget to be a "red line".

'Only horizons'

Macron appeared to respond to Lindner directly on Tuesday, saying: "I don't have red lines, I only have horizons."

But he also steered clear of defining how big any future eurozone budget might be, having previously said he wanted it to be the equivalent of "several points" of eurozone GDP which could amount to several hundred billion euros.

Among his propositions was a new type of tax on technology giants like Facebook and Apple -- based on how much value they create in a country rather than their profits -- and taxes on financial transactions across the bloc.

Macron also proposed a shared European military intervention force and defense budget. He suggested the creation of a European intelligence academy to better fight terrorism, and a joint civil protection force.

He wants to open the French military to European soldiers and proposed other EU member states do the same on a voluntary basis.

An EU-wide agency to handle asylum requests, a beefed up common border force and a European innovation agency were among other ideas for EU organizations that would require further pooling of national sovereignty.

Opposition inevitable

Macron's vision for a new phase of European integration, a process which started in the post-war era and led to the creation of the EU, is likely to run into objections in some countries.

Nationalist governments in Poland or Hungary do not share his desire to send new powers to Brussels, while his plan for harmonized corporation tax will ring alarm bells in low-tax countries such as Ireland.

Addressing the issue of Britain's planned departure from the European Union -- the most vivid illustration of growing nationalist feeling in the bloc -- Macron appeared to leave the door open for London to rejoin or change its mind.

"In a few years, if they want, the United Kingdom could find its place... In this reformed and simplified EU that I'm proposing, I can't imagine that the United Kingdom could not find its place," he said.

Along with Brexit and the German elections, Macron's proposals are likely to top the agenda at a two-day summit of all 28 EU members in Estonia from Thursday.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed the speech, saying the bloc required "courage" to move ahead.

Macron's style is also likely to be widely discussed by his European partners and his pitch for the leadership role for the continent has grated with some policymakers in Germany since his election in May.

One person close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel accused him of acting like a "Sun King" with a "God-given right to rule" in recent comments to AFP on condition of anonymity.

French officials considered that now was the best time for Macron to lay out his vision for Europe as Merkel begins cobbling together a coalition which will agree a detailed roadmap for the four-year term ahead.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter