EU loses way in a civil war ‘focused on differences, little betrayals’

Major Athens speech: Emmanuel Macron urges critique of last 12 years of EU history

French president Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech on the Pnyx hill in Athens on September 7th, 2017, as part of his two-day official visit to Greece. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

French president Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech on the Pnyx hill in Athens on September 7th, 2017, as part of his two-day official visit to Greece. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

 

French president Emmanuel Macron delivered a major address on what he calls “the re-foundation of Europe” on a state visit to Athens.

Speaking on Thursday night on the wooded hillside where ancient Greeks convened the first citizens’ assemblies, with the Acropolis as a backdrop, Mr Macron said, “This place creates an obligation for us, because it is here that the modern state was invented.”

Mr  Macron asked rhetorically: “What have we, Europeans, done with our sovereignty? . . . What have we done with democracy? . . . What have we done with confidence? . . . In Europe today, sovereignty, democracy and confidence are in danger.” For if Athens was the cradle of democracy, it was also at the heart of recent financial and migrant crises.

Mr Macron’s speech showed how radically French perception has evolved. The Greeks are no longer portrayed as lazy and wasteful, but as suffering victims. “This crisis was not only a Greek crisis,” Mr Macron said. “It was a crisis of Europe, and in a sense, I dare say it, a failure of Europe . . . It is the Greek people who paid.”

German officials do not regard the Greek bailout as a “failure”. The Suddeutsche Zeitung recently reported that Berlin reaped €1.34 billion in interest on Greek debt, while loans made by Paris to Athens brought in €729 million between 2010 and 2014.

Mr Macron earlier reiterated his intention to seek forgiveness for some of Greece’s colossal €320 billion debt, when the present programme is completed next summer.

Mr Macron said he “considers that the International Monetary Fund had no place in European affairs. I want Europe to regain its full independence.” The European Stability Mechanism must be activated, “and we must go towards a European Monetary Fund”.

‘Radical critique’

Mr Macron said a “radical critique” of the last 12 years of EU history, since the constitutional treaty referendum was defeated in France and the Netherlands, was necessary. “We are wrong to leave criticism of Europe to those who hate it! Those who love Europe must be able to criticise it, to remake, correct, improve and re-found it!” he said.

Europe had lost its way in “a form of internal civil war in which we focused on our differences, our little betrayals”. Mr Macron said he is fighting “bureaucratic drift that would make Europe advance through rules that our citizens no longer understand”.

Real sovereignty means coming together “to build a European power, so that the superpowers cannot impose their will on us”, Mr Macron said. Climate change, migration, terrorism, nuclear proliferation and economic and financial crises could only be addressed by a body on the scale of the EU.

Mr Macron wants Europe to be “an economic power that can stand up to China and the US . . . a diplomatic and military power that can defend our values and interests”. European defence was part of his crusade for “a Europe that protects”. He noted that eight EU member states have come together to strengthen defence co-operation.

As part of his crusade for a “Europe that protects”, Mr Macron has since May campaigned for a revision of the 1996 “posted workers” directive. Under present rules, he said, Europe “pursues a sort of lowest social denominator, that thinks the future of some can be built by deconstructing the rights of others”. He wants “a Europe that dares again to defend social and fiscal convergence”.

‘Truly responsible executive’

The euro zone must “invent a governance that will make us sovereign, with a budget, with a truly responsible executive for this euro zone, and a parliament of the euro zone to which it will be accountable”.

Mr Macron proposed that seats in the European Parliament vacated by the UK’s departure be filled by “transnational lists” in the 2019 European Parliament elections, instead of redistributing them according to national quotas. The extreme right-wing Front National has denounced the idea as an attempt to “promote Europist, globalist political forces”.

Mr Macron also proposed that “democratic conventions”, modelled on the consultation process he used in his presidential campaign, be held in all 27 EU countries during the first six months of 2018, to listen to European citizens and set priorities for the next decade. He is visiting European capitals, one by one, seeking support for his ideas.

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