April 18, 2018
What Macron did not say in Strasbourg
It was grand oratory Emmanuel Macron delivered in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He advocated a Europe of ambition, sovereignty, and resolute democracy, in the face of rising authoritarianism. Not an authoritarian democracy, but the authority of democracy, is the best defence against the illiberal, he said. He was warning that there was a sort of European civil war brewing and a constantly growing fascination with the illiberal. The enemy is defined. But what about the response?
This call for a strong Europe hides more than it reveals. What does European sovereignty mean, concretely? And how can we agree on more Europe amid our disagreements? There are huge discrepancies among EU countries, and across party lines, and Macron's speech is unlikely to change this. In a way, Macron himself acknowledged it: Instead of confronting the Germans and their reluctance on the eurozone reform agenda, he raises the white flag. At least that is the reading in Handelsblatt and FAZ. In his discourse he merely noted that there was a need for urgent eurozone reforms, and that France is ready to increase its contribution to the EU budget.
Also, this with-us-or-against-us speech has its own risks. Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP group, warned not to divide the Europeans into good and bad. All are Europeans are to be respected in all the member states. Mediapart cites a French conservative MEP and a senator complaining that the speech shied away from asking the question of what sort of Europe we want, and papered over the differences and fractures that threaten to tear the Union apart. The left MEPs, meanwhile, wondered how Macron's liberal European ambition sits with his own authoritarian management style at home.
On the sensitive subject of immigration, Macron proposed setting up an EU fund to help communities that agree to welcome refugees. Expect member states to haggle over the details if the fund were to become reality. He also renewed his push for an EU carbon tax designed to fight climate change, and proposed a new levy on the digital economy to help finance the EU budget once Britain has left the bloc.
The ambitious Macron takes Europe on a inspirational journey to find a sense of determination and common purpose. Though, even if Jean-Claude Juncker is cheering that France is back, we have yet to see that Macron can take others along with him. We already seem to accept that Germany is reluctant on eurozone reforms. The other challenge for Macron will be forming his own group attracting MEPs from other groups in the European parliament.