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Macron says focus of EU presidency to be migration, sovereignty

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By Reuters
Macron says focus of EU presidency to be migration, sovereignty
Macron says focus of EU presidency to be migration, sovereignty   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Michel Rose and Tassilo Hummel

PARIS – Reinforcing Europe’s sovereignty – from ensuring its security and protecting its businesses to better controlling migration – will be a key aim of France’s European Union presidency, the country’s leader Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.

France takes on the rotating six-month presidency of the EU at a time of crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic aftermath, tensions with Russia, and heightened business rivalries with China and the United States.

“We must move from a Europe of cooperation within our borders to a Europe that is powerful in the world, fully sovereign, free in its choices and master of its destiny,” President Macron told a news conference at which he presented France’s January-to-June EU programme.

A major priority, he said, would be immigration, at a time when Belarus stands accused of engineering a refugee crisis by flying migrants in the Middle East and pushing them to attempt to illegally cross its borders into EU states Poland and Lithuania.

Among France’s proposals will be setting up an emergency reaction force to assist EU states facing crises at their borders, Macron said.

He also wants the bloc to have regular political meetings on migration – like euro zone states already do on economic matters.

The bloc has been deeply divided for years in its response to immigration and how to police the common external borders of its Schengen area, and it remains to be seen how much France can achieve during its presidency of the EU Council of Ministers – which mostly encompasses the agenda for meetings.

But Macron faces a presidential election in April, and conservative and far-right parties are likely to make migration, on which he is viewed by some as a soft touch, a campaign issue.

Key also to ensuring the EU’s sovereignty is to progress on defence issues, Macron said.

Since his election in 2017, Macron has been pushing for the EU to stand independent in terms of security, and no longer rely solely on U.S. military protection inherited from World War Two.

He said he also hoped to ensure that the bloc’s businesses do not suffer from its policies on fighting climate change.

A major aspect there will be pushing for an EU carbon border tax on a series of imports, something already put forward by the EU’s executive Commission to protect European industries from competitors abroad whose manufacturers can produce at lower cost because they are not charged for their carbon output.

Turning to the economic impact of COVID-19, Macron said he would organise an EU growth summit in March. Boosting the bloc’s growth model would require adjusting budget rules to make them more simplified and transparent, he said.