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Davos 2018: French president calls for powerful Europe in climate change appeal

‘France is back’ said Emmanuel Macron in a pitch for investment and global unity

French president Emmanuel Macron. Reuters / Etienne Laurent
French president Emmanuel Macron. Reuters / Etienne Laurent

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, called Wednesday for a ten-year plan to build a stronger Europe to act as a powerful counterpoint to the influence of China and the United States.

In a passionate defence of his pro-European values, Mr Macron cited global disagreements over climate change and trade as reason to promote the European Union as a greater economic and political power.

In a wide-ranging speech, he said he wanted a “global compact” to prevent a race to the bottom on taxes and regulation and called on the International Monetary Fund to examine cyber-currencies and the least regulated part of the financial system.

“If we want to avoid this fragmentation of the world we need a stronger Europe, it’s absolutely key,” he told the World Economic Forum at Davos.

Mr Macron warned that globalisation was going through a "major crisis" during a passionate defence of his labour and taxation reform agenda that has proved unpopular in his native France.

He announced a ten-billion-euro innovation fund as the pro-business former investment banker sought to portray France as a place to do business.

“The first message is France is back. France is back at the core of Europe. Because we will never have any French success without European success,” he said.


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Mr Macron was the third European leader on Wednesday to warn of the dangers of isolation before the arrival of Donald Trump, the US president, at the Swiss Alpine resort on Thursday. Mr Trump is due to speak to the conference on Friday to promote his “America first” policies which have seen the US pull out of global treaties on trade and the environment.

In a light-hearted dig at Mr Trump and the snow that left 3,000 delegates struggling to reach the venue, Mr Macron said that it was good that the organisers had not “invited anybody sceptical about global warming this year”.

The well-received speech marked the former investment banker’s first appearance at Davos since being elected president eight months ago.

Mr Macron’s popularity abroad is in contrast to his fortunes at home which have dipped since his rapid ascent to power that was seen as a blow for the European project against the growing influence of right-wing populist parties.

Mr Macron is seen in some quarters as the most powerful voice in Europe following the Brexit voice and the political woes of Angela Merkel, who has been forced to focus on forming a new government after elections last year.

Mr Macron has been the foremost proponent of a more united, reformed and integrated Europe Union, while seeking to benefit from the fallout of the UK’s decision to leave the 28-nation bloc.

But his labour reforms have proved unpopular and he urged the Davos audience that populations needed to be convinced of the benefits of globalisation, or forces of nationalism would emerge victorious.

He warned that millions could lose their jobs through the advance of artificial intelligence and said businesses had to take more responsibility for retraining to create new jobs. “We need less arms and more brains,” he said.

He displayed his pro-business credentials on Monday when he invited 140 global leaders of industry to the grand palace of Versailles, taking advantage of the lure of the World Economic Forum across the border in Switzerland. The line-up included Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook.

The event was co-ordinated with a series of pledges amounting to $3 billion from companies including Toyota.

Social media giants Google and Facebook both pledged investment for centres on artificial intelligence, building on a pledge by the French leader to develop the country’s hi-tech capabilities.

Updated: January 24, 2018 10:00 PM