Macron calls for stronger EU borders and closer defence ties

France’s president lays out vision for EU presidency and urges new spirit for Europe

President Emmanuel Macron summarised his goals for France's imminent presidency of the European Union with three words: "Recovery, power, belonging".

Speaking at a two-hour-and-20-minute press conference at the Élysée Palace on Thursday night, Mr Macron said, "We must go from a Europe of co-operation within our borders to a Europe that is powerful in the world, fully sovereign, with freedom of choice and mastery of its destiny."

For the first time in half a century, Europe faces “existential questions” in the continuing pandemic, the digital revolution and global inequality, Mr Macron said.

Alluding to Belarus's threat to flood the EU with migrants, Mr Macron spoke of "migratory dangers exacerbated by the manipulations of certain states". He mentioned "the destabilisation of certain of our democracies" – the policies of nationalist populist leaders in Hungary and Poland – and "heightened tensions in our near neighbourhood", meaning fears that Russia will invade Ukraine.

The thousands of migrants stranded in Belarus and the drowning of 27 migrants near Calais on November 24th showed that “Europe must be able to control its borders”, Mr Macron said.

He intends to reform the Schengen zone of free circulation within the EU by creating a “pilot group” comparable to the group of finance ministers from the euro zone. It would “take political decisions and have a coherent policy for mastery of our borders”. Member states would be able to count on the intervention of Frontex, the EU agency of border guards and coast guards, at times of crisis.

The French president wants the EU to “work with countries where migrants originate, protect its borders, harmonise rules for political asylum and improve follow-up” on individual cases.

‘Strategic compass’

The second key to a more sovereign Europe was to make progress on European defence, Mr Macron said. Since 2017, an EU defence fund has been established by French initiative. France and Germany have launched joint programmes to build a maritime patrol aircraft and a main battle tank. It was now time to "enter a more operational phase".

The "strategic compass", the first European White Paper on defence, whose goal is "to develop a sovereign, European strategy" was launched under the German presidency in the second half of 2020 and would be completed at the March 2022 European Council presided by France, Mr Macron said.

Not all EU members belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Mr Macron noted, but EU states face the same threats and need a shared analysis and joint military exercises. The EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy will prepare a position paper for the Nato summit in Madrid next June.

Mr Macron emphasised the need to reform the EU's "tired, bureaucratic" relationship with the Organisation of African Unity. Europe must invest in health, education and development in Africa. The French presidency will organise an EU-OAU summit in Brussels in February to address inequality and stop traffickers from "turning the Mediterranean into a shameful cemetery".

The second important theme of the French presidency, after migration, was “to design a new European model for growth”, Mr Macron said, “a model of production and of solidarity” which could at the same time “create wealth and protect its social model”, by providing jobs and fighting unemployment.

‘Technological sovereignty’

A summit on March 10th-11th, 2022, will seek to define that new model. The EU had fallen behind in cloud computing and semi-conductors, he noted. It was important that they acted together, as Europeans “to build true technological sovereignty”. He wants Europe to be “a digital power”.

This would require a new budgetary framework, different from the one created in the 1990s, Mr Macron said, referring to the Stability Pact, which established limits on deficit spending and debt as a percentage of gross domestic product.

Mr Macron called for “an élan to refound Europe, to refound the humanist vocation of Europe . . . This élan might go so far as to refound our treaties”. He was pleased that the new German government shared this goal.

The harshest words of the press conference were for Boris Johnson’s UK government, at a time of crisis in Franco-British relations. “Our relations are difficult today. Why? Because the present government . . . simply does not do what it says. It has not observed the agreement it signed on fisheries.”

Nor was the UK co-operating “in good faith” on migration, Mr Macron continued. The UK offered “no legal way to apply for asylum”. There was “an opaque system since the 1980s whereby the British economic model relies on illegal foreign labour”.

Referring to the Aukus defence pact between Australia, the UK and US, Mr Macron said he "cannot ignore that the British were ardent promoters of a [submarine] contract which fought the French vision for the Indo-Pacific region" and created a risk of nuclear proliferation. "To use an understatement, none of the above are signs of friendship."

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