Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

Emmanuel Macron open letter calls for European renewal

French leader condemns Brexit as he takes on nationalism ahead of EU elections

Mr Macron faces the media. AP
Mr Macron faces the media. AP

French leader Emmanuel Macron proposed a conference of European states before the end of the year to overhaul the EU in response to the nationalist revolt across the bloc.

In an address directly to EU citizens, Mr Macron urged voters to keep faith in Europe and avoid the “trap” of nationalist sentiments, while setting out his ideas for a post-Brexit relationship with Britain.

“Never since the Second World War has Europe been so necessary, and yet never has Europe been in such danger,” Mr Macron wrote. “Brexit is a symbol, a symbol of this crisis of Europe which was not able to provide its people protection against the great shocks of the contemporary world.”

The 1,600-word essay contained a range of ideas from Mr Macron, including a specialist agency to protect EU nations from foreign election meddling, a common border force and European asylum system, as well as a new treaty on defence.

Mr Macron said the EU also needed to “rethink” the Schengen area which allows freedom of movement, a comment seemingly aimed at a number of eastern European members like Hungary which have refused to share the burden of refugees.

“All those who want to be part of it should comply with obligations of responsibility (stringent border controls) and solidarity (a single asylum policy with common acceptance and refusal rules),” he wrote.

That would test the willingness of hostile governments such as Hungary and Italy to stay in the single travel area.

Ideas to improve quality of life for the average European were also raised in the letter, including an EU-wide minimum wage to act as a "social shield guaranteeing the same pay at the same place of work". Mr Macron also suggested the bloc take a leading role in slowing climate change.

“The EU needs to set its target – zero carbon by 2050 and pesticides halved by 2025 – and adapt its policies accordingly with such measures as a European Climate Bank to finance the ecological transition,” he wrote.

Mr Macron’s ideas received a warm welcome from some EU leaders, including Finnish PM Juha Sipila and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who both wrote on Twitter to support his ideas.

A comment in Le Monde suggested the editorial marked a return of Mr Macron's ambitions to lead in Europe after months on the sidelines preoccupied by his own country's Yellow Vest protests. A report in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung said Mr Macron was emboldened to turn his attention to Europe.

"Macron has been trying for almost a year to transfer the momentum that brought him to the Élysée Palace in France, to Europe," the paper said. "His popularity slipped before Christmas to 20 per cent and is now close to 40 per cent. Macron has indeed succeeded in what he proclaimed to the French: He has reinterpreted the crisis as an opportunity. His regained self-confidence seeps from every line of this European letter."

Populist parties running on anti-immigration and Eurosceptic platforms are expected to gain seats in the late May EU parliament vote but not win a majority. Macron once pushed for pan-European lists for the election, but the EU Parliament voted down that idea in favour of maintaining country-by-country voting.

Updated: March 5, 2019 06:14 PM

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