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Open Europe's Hugo Stratton looks at European reactions to French President Emmanuel Macron's speech on Tuesday
Following on from the European Commission President’s State of the Union speech earlier this month, French President Emanuel Macron’s EU vision laid out on Tuesday is the second intervention on the future of the EU within as many weeks. Macron was broadly expected to cover Eurozone reform, yet his proposals were far more comprehensive in scope, more closely resembling a “bold” and “visionary” manifesto for the future trajectory of European integration. Open Europe looks at Europe’s response to the speech.
The French press appeared to have mixed reviews on the President’s new vision for the EU. Le Monde led with headlines noting the President’s ambitious vision for Europe: “Macron’s European project put to the test”. An editorial in the newspaper reads, “It’s almost strange to hear, once again, the French president speak about Europe boldly, with enthusiasm and optimism.”
L’Humanité titles its editorial piece, “Europe: Emmanuel Macron wants to take the reins from Angela Merkel”, while French financial paper, Les Echos argues, “The French president, by defending multilateralism and European reform, provokes a certain expectation on the international stage. As was the case before him for the former US president. But success is not guaranteed.”
Left-leaning Libération was much more critical, choosing to focus on Macron’s tax and reform agenda, headlining their editorial, “Hero of the rich, flagship of Europe”.
Regarding the response from Macron’s political opponents at home, an official statement from the far-right Front National warns that the President’s speech was “a true declaration of war against national independence,” adding, “This headlong rush into federalism is worrying, and illustrates the totalitarian vision that characterised the European institutions.”
Elsewhere, Laurent Wauquiez, a Republican MP and candidate to lead the Republican party, was also critical of the contents of the speech, tweeting, “Emmanuel Macron is a Europe of taxes and duties.”
As in France, an array of mixed reactions came from the German press following the speech. Le Monde and Frankfurter Allgemeine published a joint intervention by leading French and German economists, calling on their respective governments to reconsider their plans for Eurozone reform. They argue, “Apart from allowing both the French and German governments to claim victory at home, such a ‘small bargain’ would accomplish very little.”
Influential German weekly ‘Die Zeit’ published an article supporting the French President’s message, calling on Germany’s next government to back his ideas. While it cautioned that “the problems of the euro must first and foremost be resolved in the nation states”, and questions about Eurozone budget, minister and parliament “all have to be hashed out”, it concluded that “the goal now is to approve reform”.
Most of the coverage in Sueddeutsche did not welcome Macron’s speech at all, arguing that its timing was chosen to put pressure on Merkel and influence the coalition negotiations. Under the heading “Macron’s vision, Merkel’s dilemma”, Stephan Kornelius argues, “This agenda and particularly its timing should anger the presumed next Chancellor Angela Merkel, because the President is using the vacuum between election day and government building to dictate the content of the coalition negotiations with regards to European policy. It’s no longer just the FDP and the Grüne [Greens] sitting at the table, it’s also Monsieur le Président”. Kornelius continues, “In addition to this tactical coup, Macron also achieved a second piece of art: he brought back France as a nation with the ability to shape Europe.” Also writing for the Sueddeutsche, Leo Klimm argues, “After the election, Germany doesn’t appear as a Europhile as Paris has become accustomed to over the past decades. [Macron] wants unashamedly to gain influence over the coalition negotiations in his neighbouring country.”
Official reactions were generally more measured. German chancellor Angela Merkel was diplomatic in her response, on one hand welcoming Macron’s speech as “full of vigour” and “European passion”, yet on the other remaining relatively vague and non-committal by adding: “it always depends on the actual arrangements”. Her spokesperson said that the debate regarding EU reform is now likely to accelerate, and that Merkel would participate “with joy”.
In a more positive and concrete fashion, the German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, was supportive of Macron’s “general direction” regarding a common European strategy for defence and security, and Sigmar Gabriel, current foreign minister (SPD), called Macron’s speech “a passionate plea against nationalism and for Europe”.
Responses from German Free Democrats (FDP) were less enthusiastic, MEP Alexander Lambsdorff argued that “You don’t strengthen Europe with new pots of money”, adding that “The problem in Europe is not a lack of public funds, but the lack of reform. A euro zone budget would set exactly the wrong incentives”.
In the UK, the Financial Times reported that Macron’s “Europe of tomorrow” speech “was greeted with rapturous applause in Brussels as another step in mapping out Europe’s reinvigorated future”. The article noted that the President’s “visionary” intervention ventured into areas often seen as “taboo” for French leaders, such as Common Agricultural Policy reform. Is also notes that he “shied away from neuralgic German pressure points – notably the euro” despite the election result over the weekend.
The Telegraph focused on Macron’s suggestion that the UK could re-join a “reformed, simplified” EU, while The Guardian noted Macron’s claim that time was running out for the EU to reinvent itself to counter the rise of the far-right.
In Italy, the speech was welcomed with enthusiasm by the liberal newspaper Il Foglio, which speaks of a “long and magnificent speech” and praises the French President for outlining a vision which breaks with “the old model of enlightened elites and lazy bureaucracies.” Similarly positive, the Italian edition of the Huffington Post describes the spirit of Macron’s speech as “half a defeat of the current model, half realpolitik”. They go on to report that “Macron’s recipe also convinces [Italian Prime Minister] Paolo Gentiloni, who will be in Lyon tomorrow with most of the Italian government for a bilateral meeting between Italy and France.”
Other Italian newspapers, including the centrist La Stampa and the right-wing Il Giornale, focus instead on students’ protests upon Macron’s arrival at the Sorbonne.
Among Italian officials, Italian European Affairs Undersecretary Sandro Gozi welcomed the speech on twitter.
In Portugal, much of the press reaction focused on Macron’s key proposals. RTP headlined its piece: “Macron wants a common EU fiscal system and army”. It also notes that Macron’s suggestion that the UK could re-join was “the only, and brief, comment he made regarding Brexit”.
The opinion section of the Jornal Económico comments on Macron’s style, arguing that Portuguese politicians can learn from him, “France’s problems are so similar to Portugal’s that our political class should examine, not just the programme, but the way that Macron communicates”.
The opinion section of Público asks, “What do we gain from ignoring Macron?”. Arguing that it is likely that few truly listened to what the French President was saying. Macron’s ideas are on the table, he said, and need to be discussed. The article goes on to argue that Europe still suffers from the complacency, pessimism and immobility that were entrenched during the crisis that has now passed, and that we are all used to watching governments fail to move forwards.
The Swedish defence minister voiced concerns about Macron’s vision of an increasingly integrated EU military capacity. Referring to Swedish neutrality, he reportedly said “Sweden is a country without military alliances. We can see that the defence cooperation that takes place within the EU framework is to take place on an intergovernmental basis”, and added, “He [Macron] wants a special force, it is not something we’ve discussed or pushed and I’m not prepared to voice any support for the idea.”