Emmanuel Macron's open letter to the citizens of the European Union is an urgent appeal for mobilisation against the threats of what the French president describes as nationalist retrenchment and apathy.
He alludes to his three principal adversaries in Europe: the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, the Italian interior minister and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini and Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right party Rassemblement National, as "anger mongers, backed by fake news" who "promise anything and everything".
Tuesday’s open letter builds on the theme of European sovereignty which Macron set out in speeches in Athens, at the Sorbonne and in Aachen over the past two years.
The form is different. “This is the first time that a head of state has spoken to all the peoples of Europe in their languages,” says an adviser.
The emphasis has shifted to Europe’s place in the world, and the need to protect Europe from those he has called illiberal democrats.
The most remarkable initiative is Macron’s call for a European agency for the protection of democracy, which would help member states protect their elections from cyberattacks and manipulation. He also demands that foreign powers be banned from funding European political parties.
These proposals show the extent to which the May 2019 EU parliamentary elections are a replay of the 2017 French presidential election, on a Europe-wide scale. If he is to regain his lustre as the great new hope of Europe, Macron must defeat Marine Le Pen a second time.
Russia was suspected of having hacked Macron's campaign emails in 2017, as it hacked Hillary Clinton's in the US. And Russian banks gave millions of euro to Le Pen's campaign.
Macron has been weakened by the revolt of the gilets jaunes or yellow vests, who have a great deal in common with Le Pen’s supporters. Macron’s approval ratings have returned to pre-crisis levels, and support for the gilets jaunes has plummeted. His party, La République en Marche, is running slightly ahead of Le Pen’s RN in voter intentions.
At the Sorbonne on September 26th, 2017, Macron made dozens of concrete proposals for Europe. The response from other European leaders was lukewarm at best.
German chancellor Angela Merkel was bogged down in the long and slow formation of her government. Macron's relations with the Italian government deteriorated dramatically after populists and nationalists won elections there. Like-minded liberal democrats did not rally to him. Northern countries, including Ireland, formed a so-called Hanseatic League to thwart Macron's attempts to integrate the euro zone.
Macron's advisers believe the Sorbonne speech "visibly encouraged other European leaders to speak". They welcome in particular an address by Mark Rutte in Zurich on February 13th, in which the Dutch prime minister spoke of the need for Europe to claim a more important role internationally.
Progress has been made on at least half the measures that Macron proposed at the Sorbonne. The EU is investing massively in a defence fund. Ten states have joined a European intervention initiative to plan defence strategy. And Macron will on Tuesday address the closing session of the first meeting of the European intelligence college established at his instigation.
Macron went a long way towards repairing his damaged ties with Italy in a television interview with RAI on Sunday night. The French president professed his love for Italy, and announced that his Italian counterpart, Sergio Mattarella, will travel to Amboise to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci in France on May 2nd.