The French President Emmanuel Macron has set out a wide-ranging vision for European Union reform. His address on the future of Europe called for enhanced cooperation and harmonisation on the economy, immigration and defence, the environment, security and terrorism, tax and international development.
The president called for a major overhaul of the eurozone with – as expected – a separate budget and finance minister for the single currency. Macron said the reform was key to ensure its stability and to weather economic shocks.
“The fundamental issue at stake is not a mechanism which will magically solve all our problems,” Macron told an audience of students at the Sorbonne university in Paris. “What is at stake is to reduce unemployment which affects one in five European youths.”
He added that his idea was not about “mutualising past debts” or about trying to “resolve the public finance problems of one state or another”.
The French leader also said the EU should have a joint defence force able to act autonomously.
“At the beginning of the next decade, Europe should thus be equipped with a common intervention force, a common defence budget, and with a common doctrine to act,” he said.
On immigration too, Macron wants the EU to be more robust. It’s only with Europe, he said, that we can efficiently protect our borders and treat asylum seekers fairly.
“I want a real European asylum office to be created, which speeds up and harmonises our procedures: so that finally we have connected files and secure biometric identity documents, for in France today we deal with tens of thousands of asylum requests that our European partners have already rejected; (I want) a European border police force to be set up gradually, which guarantees rigorous control of borders everywhere in Europe and assures the return of those who can’t stay,” Macron said.
Outside the hall, a protest at French labour reforms passed off peacefully. Riot police held back a few dozen students and activists demonstrating against the policies which have prompted protests by unions and far-left groups.
Mixed reaction in Germany
The French president’s address comes just two days after elections in Germany, which saw his key pro-EU ally Angela Merkel emerge weaker. Macron told his audience his speech was deliberately timed just after the vote and before coalition talks begin in Berlin, in order to have more influence.
He set an objective that the two countries completely integrate their markets and corporate rules by 2024.
Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc remained the largest party in the Bundestag, but could have to go into coalition with the eurosceptic Free Democrats (FDP), which could limit the extent of her ambitions for the EU.
The leader of the FDP is fiercely critical of deeper integration of the 19 eurozone countries and hours after the election said he would put the brakes on the French leader’s plans for a eurozone budget. A senior FDP member said the party generally welcomed Macron’s speech, but criticised his proposal to create a joint eurozone budget.
The Greens, another potential coalition partner for Merkel, welcomed Macron’s intervention even while the French president was still speaking.
“Germany should take Macron’s extended hand and push Europe forward,” co-leader Cem Ozdemir said.
But one lawmaker from Merkel’s CSU allies said the French president’s ideas were insuitable. “They do not lead to a deepening (of the EU), but to a deeper split in the EU,” Hans Michelbach said.
Martin Selmayr, chief of staff of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said the proposals to reinforce the eurozone would be discussed alongside Juncker’s own at a special eurozone summit planned for December.