This article is part of our special report French presidential election: Where does Europe fit into all this?.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who is building suspense over whether he will run for a second term, has a vision of “refounding” a more sovereign Europe. EURACTIV France reports.
With less than three months to go before the presidential elections on 10 and 24 April, the founder of La République en Marche (LREM) has not yet officially confirmed or denied whether he will enter the race.
But this has not stopped Macron from having a long term political vision for France (which he presented on 12 October) nor from advocating his short and long term vision for Europe, as France took over the EU Council presidency on 1 January.
A more sovereign Europe
“The only way to ensure our future […] is to rebuild a sovereign, united and democratic Europe,” the president had said in his famous Sorbonne speech in September 2017. Faced with global challenges, “Europe alone can […] ensure real sovereignty, that is to say, our ability to exist in today’s world to defend our values and interests”.
Macron reaffirmed his position in December when presenting his priorities for the French EU presidency, which included a commitment to a “more sovereign” Europe. Reforming the Schengen area, pushing for a common European defence strategy, and a new European growth model were among other outlined priorities.
“In 2017, sovereignty was a big word,” Renew Europe MEP and France’s former EU affairs minister, Nathalie Loiseau, told EURACTIV France.
“Today, the need to build common cybersecurity and defence capabilities, to work better with NATO and to reindustrialise our countries has become a real issue that is increasingly shared by many member states,” she added.
“There is a greater consensus on strategic autonomy than there was four years ago,” Claude-France Arnould, adviser to the president on European affairs at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), concurs.
“I think that no member state doubts the need to increase the capacity for joint action anymore”, the former director of the European Defence Agency (EDA) and diplomatic adviser to France’s Ministry of Europe and foreign affairs added.
The rule of law
Additionally, the French EU Council presidency “will serve to promote the values that make us who we are”, Macron told MEPs in Strasbourg on 19 January, announcing that he wanted to lead the “fight” for the rule of law in the EU.
Macron, whom Green candidate Yannick Jadot accused of committing a “political mistake” by “being disposed of for all sorts of alliances” with Hungary and Poland, has instead “put things back in their right place” by raising the rule of law issue first during his speech to the European Parliament, Loiseau comments.
According to the French MEP, it was necessary to not “limit ourselves to a logic of sanctions”. However, all member states have accepted the rule of law conditionality when joining the bloc. Eurosceptics needed to be convinced, rather than dismissed, she added.
Compared to the “European fatalism” expressed by some presidential candidates, Macron was a “dogmatic pro-European”, seeking answers instead of giving up in the face of the EU’s needs and shortcomings, the former EU affairs minister added.
A “coherent” and long-term EU vision
“There is no doubt that Macron is the most pro-European” of the French presidential candidates, according to a spokesperson for the Renaissance delegation – French MEPs belonging to Renew Europe in the European Parliament.
This was demonstrated by “his tactical consideration of how the EU works, his willingness to cooperate and share ideas instead of just wanting France to win”, as well as “his consistency in visions and ideas”, the spokesperson told EURACTIV France. “Since his candidacy in 2016, we see a political personality who keeps saying the same things,” he added.
Consistency is also reflected in Macron’s rather ambitious programme for the French EU presidency, Loiseau added.
“We did not pull issues out of our hat”, said Loiseau, adding that we are now seeing “projects come to maturity” for which “we have formulated our priorities several years ago”.
“It will not be a gimmicky presidency”, said Arnould. There was no question of taking “spectacular initiatives” during the next six months, “but of making effective progress on the essential issues at hand,” the former EDA chief added.
These include the implementation of the carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) and the finalisation of the Strategic Compass, the European Union’s upcoming military strategy.
With regards to the digital transition, “we obviously expect progress on the DMA and the DSA” – the EU’s Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act, which aim to regulate the digital market better – the Renaissance spokesperson said.
But despite focusing on the next six months, the non-candidate Macron also made it clear that he has a long term vision for Europe. As he told EU Commissioners on 7 January, the construction of a “new model of growth and European autonomy” would certainly be a “key element” for the coming months – “but above all for the coming decade”.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]