President Emmanuel Macron presented long lists of things the EU could do in speeches in Athens and at the Sorbonne last year. Tuesday's address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg was different: an urgent plea to the union's leaders to assume their responsibilities and "build a new European sovereignty".
Macron deplored “a form of European civil war” in which “sometimes our national egotism seems more important than what unites us”.
The problem is that the word “sovereignty” as used by Macron is interchangeable with the word “integration”. His fellow heads of state and government don’t want it.
“The very meaning of the European adventure is that of greater convergence,” Macron said. “We must not give up on the ambition of any of our existing policies, but we must add new ambitions . . . It is not the people who have abandoned the European ideal. It is the intellectuals who betrayed them.”
A cartoon on the front page of L'Opinion newspaper caricactured Macron as Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People", hoisting a European flag on the barricades while fellow Europeans held back.
Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, the deputy in the French National Assembly who Macron has asked to build a European parliamentary group based on Macron's La République En Marche, says there are now two Europes: Macron's and the Eurosceptical, anti-immigrant right led by the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.
With the exception of Macron’s election, the Eurosceptical, anti-immigrant right has made advances in every recent European election.
“I still espouse liberal democracy,” Macron said, admitting the term is out of fashion. “Faced with the authoritarianism that surrounds us, the answer is not authoritarian democracy but the authority of democracy.”
Macron rejoiced in the fact that all member states, including Hungary, have accepted his idea of "citizens consultations" this year. He was to launch France's "consultations" late on Tuesday in the town of Epinal, in the Vosges region of eastern France, where he will spend Wednesday.
Macron's European partners have listened politely to his "new ambitions" and done nothing. There are in fact more than two Europes. A third group, of eight economically liberal northern countries, led by the Netherlands and including Ireland, virtually scuppered Macron's proposals for strengthening the euro zone in early March. We're unlikely to see a euro zone budget, finance minister or parliament, or the pooling of risk, as Macron wanted.
Hardliners in Angela Merkel's CDU are delighted to see the Dutch-led group doing their work. The European People's Party, to which the CDU and Fine Gael belong, has scheduled a seminar titled Macron, Friend or Enemy? in Slovenia next month.
Macron and Merkel will meet on Thursday in Berlin to work on a “road map” for euro zone reform. The Germans fear Macron’s proposals would make German taxpayers liable for other Europeans’ spending.
Like Germany, a fourth group is either too lethargic or too preoccupied by such concerns as Catalan nationalists or forming an Italian government to be receptive to Macron's European overtures.
The European Parliament in February rejected Macron’s call for a small number of Europe-wide lists in the May 2019 elections.
Glass half full
But the French leader prefers to see the glass half full. He praised the body for passing legislation on data protection that preserved EU citizens from the abuses that took place in the US with the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal. His initiative to revise the Posted Workers Directive, which enabled Eastern European workers to undercut labour markets, has succeeded. He has given new impetus to European defence co-operation.
Macron lamented that his generation, which has never known war in Europe, has chosen to ignore history. "I come from a land and a family that has known all the blood-letting of our past," he said, referring to his native Picardy.
"I don't want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers," Macron continued, borrowing from the title of Christopher Clark's influential book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.
“I want to belong to a generation that makes a firm decision to defend its democracy,” Macron concluded. “I will not give in to any fascination for authoritarian sovereignties.”