French President Emmanuel Macron made an appeal to all Europeans on Monday (4 March) to re-launch the EU project by holding a conference “without taboos” before year’s end that could possibly lead to a new treaty.
Macron’s appeal, made in all official 22 EU languages, is contained in an opinion article that was published simultaneously in several top European newspapers including Die Welt, the Guardian, El País and Corriere della Serra.
“Never since the Second World War has Europe been so necessary. And yet never has Europe been in such a danger,” Macron wrote, in what many see as the start of his own campaign for the May European Parliament elections.
In the piece, titled “For European renewal”, the French president lists a series of initiatives the EU could take both to defend itself and to adhere more closely to its core values.
In January, Macron suggested that the Brexit campaign – which saw the UK vote to leave the EU – was “manipulated from the exterior by a lot of what we call fake news”.
Brexit: a symbol of Europe’s crisis
Brexit, he said, was the symbol of Europe’s crisis “which has failed to respond to its peoples’ needs for protection from the major shocks of the modern world”.
The UK’s exit from the EU “also symbolises the European trap,” Macron wrote, continuing:
“Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the European market? Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the former border?
“Nationalist retrenchment offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative. And this trap threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.”
A ‘European Agency for the Protection of Democracies’
Aside from Brexit, the other trap, according to the French President, is the status quo and resignation. To break the inertia, he outlined several questions that citizens ask themselves: “Where is Europe? What is Europe doing?”
“I propose creating a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies, which will provide each Member State with European experts to protect their election process against cyber-attacks and manipulation”, Macron wrote.
Financing European political parties from abroad should also be banned, while rules should be agreed on banning “all incitements to hate and violence from the Internet”, he added.
Rethinking the Schengen area
Macron, who has made no secret of his plans to form a centrist, pro-European alliance to stave off populist and nationalist movements on the continent, also suggested reforming the 26-member Schengen area which allows free movement between members.
All those who want to be part of Schengen “should comply with obligations of responsibility (stringent border controls) and solidarity (one asylum policy with the same acceptance and refusal rules),” he wrote.
The Visegrad countries of Central Europe in particular have rejected calls to take in their share of migrants arriving from the Middle East and Africa. Several EU politicians have called for the Visegrad countries to be ousted from Schengen.
Macron suggested Europe should also share a common border force, along with a joint office for dealing with asylum requests.
Minimum European salary
To head off popular discontent, he raised the idea of a European minimum salary, “a social shield for all workers, east to west and north to south, guaranteeing the same pay in the same workplace, and a minimum European wage appropriate to each country and discussed collectively every year.”
At the same time, Europe should seek to favour its own business interests, just as “our American and Chinese competitors do,” Macron wrote.
Warning citizens against the threat of accepting the status quo, he urged them to seek change while preserving shared values.
Revising treaties, Europe at different speeds
A “conference for Europe”, involving “citizen panels”, could be held before the end of the year “in order to propose all the changes our political project needs, with an open mind, even to amending the treaties,” Macron suggests.
And even if some countries disagree, solutions could still be found in a Europe working at different speeds, the French President said.
The proposed Conference for Europe “will define a roadmap for the European Union that translates these key priorities into concrete actions,” Macron writes.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he argues.
He also urged negotiating a new “treaty on defence and security”, and setting up a European security council that would include Britain to promote collective defence initiatives.
In his Sorbonne speech in September 2017, Macron called for greater security cooperation in Europe and a common asylum policy.
But his ideas, until now, have met only lukewarm support from Germany’s leader Angela Merkel, while sparking outright opposition from right-wing government leaders in Italy, Hungary and Poland.
The 41-year-old Macron upset France’s traditional political system by winning the 2017 presidential election, beating off Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front.
Since then he has sought to liberalise the French economy, but this has sparked grassroot opposition with three-months of mass demonstrations by “yellow vest” protesters.