Macron calls for moral commitment to Europe in Aachen

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel greet on stage after the Charlemagne Prize (Karlspreis) ceremony at the town hall in Aachen, Germany, 10 May 2018. [EPA-EFE/RONALD WITTEK]

French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled his long-term goals for Europe, including the need for unity, courage and action, at the Charlemagne Prize award ceremony held in Aachen on 10 May. EURACTIV.fr reports.

The speech Macron gave while accepting the Charlemagne Prize in Aachen was firmly centred on the rational imperatives plotting a moral path for the future of the EU.

The CDU mayor of the city gave the French president a warm welcome, asserting, in the presence of the German Chancellor, that: “We welcome here the person who currently provides the most momentum for Europe: Emmanuel Macron”, while also stressing the need for a commitment to Europe especially among young people.

“We need to commit to Europe, not saying anything is unacceptable,” said Marcel Philipp, the mayor of Aachen, while also touching on energy issues such as nuclear power and the exit from coal.

Chancellor Angela Merkel also welcomed Macron, along with the Spanish King Felipe VI, the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, Mario Draghi and Jean-Claude Trichet (of the European Central Bank), who had all previously been awarded the prize that highlights the European commitment of a public figure.

In her speech, Merkel insisted on the authority of democracy as mentioned by Macron in his Strasbourg speech to the European Parliament. Merkel also tentatively responded to France’s proposals, while calling for the establishment of a European university, a common migration policy, as well as for progress on the banking and monetary union by end June.

In terms of foreign policy, the Chancellor stated that “Europe has to take its fate into its own hands. It is its duty!”

Europe as a moral project

In his speech, Macron put forward four categorical imperatives, corresponding to the unconditional moral laws defined by German philosopher Immanuel Kant as universal maxims applying to everyone. Macron’s speech was mostly centred on the future of Europe, unlike his previous ones at the Sorbonne and in the European Parliament, which focused on Europe’s past and present.

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Referring to the resurrection of Charlemagne’s dream, Macron pointed out that the dream of a united Europe was one plagued by doubt. ‘It is up to us to decide whether we let it live or leave it to die.”

Macron’s first imperative is the need for choice, in order to ensure European sovereignty. “We want to choose for ourselves,” stated the president, referring to the need for Europe to impose its own rules such as the GDPR and its climate change choices.

“We are the guardians of multilateralism,” he said, pointing out that the choice of peace in the Middle East had been the one advocated by Europe, and that it had to fight to keep it intact. The president also mentioned migration, arguing that only a common European policy on the subject could secure Europe.

“Let’s not be weak, let’s not endure, that is the first categorical imperative.”

Macron’s second imperative is to avoid divisions. “Isolationist tendencies reduce sovereignty,” he said of the north-south and east-west divisions.

“Over the last 10 years, much has been done, but at the price of a north-south division during the financial crisis, and one between the east and the west during the migrant crisis and these divisions have followed one after the other like a plague within Europe. Divisions lead to inaction, the only solution is unity.”

The president then stressed the risk of division between France and Germany at a time when the two currently do not see eye to eye on the economic and monetary union.

He further called on Germans reluctant about reforms to wake up: “Wake up! France has changed, it is not the same” he said, urging Germany to show solidarity especially towards countries with high youth unemployment rates.

Macron also talked about “a more ambitious European budget, to defend the rule of law, and economic, fiscal and social convergence”.

The president’s third imperative was to overcome fear. “We are faced with the temptation to abandon the foundations of our democracy. Let’s not give up anything in the EU or in the Council of Europe,” he said while suggesting that there should no longer be any fear of each other’s taboos.

“In France, we must be ready to change the treaties and cut public spending. In the same way, Germany can no longer remain attached to maintaining budget and trade surpluses, as they are always achieved at someone else’s expense”.

Indeed Germany has just announced that it wants a strict budget with cuts in public spending, running directly counter to what Macron is calling for and at the risk of creating an even larger rift between the imbalances of the southern European countries and Germany’s trade surpluses.

Macron’s last imperative is urgency. “Let’s not wait, the time [to act] is now”, acknowledging that France and Germany had waited a long time for each other.

“Europe is a utopia, but here we are, so Europe exists. Utopists are pragmatics and realists”, Macron said in conclusion.

The Charlemagne Prize, which receives little attention in France, was closely followed in Germany, where public opinion seems to be largely receptive to Macron’s ideas, given that the country is known for being historically more pro-European than France.

According to an Infratest survey, 82% of Germans appreciate Macron’s European commitment, and 58% would like to see more fervour for the EU. For the time being, however, this does not seem to be taken into account by the German government, in view of its very strict budget and unwillingness to move forward on a eurozone budget.

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