French President Emmanuel Macron has laid out a sweeping plan to relaunch the European Union, calling for greater harmonization in key policy areas and raising the prospect that the UK could rejoin a reformed bloc.
In a marathon, 90-minute speech at the Sorbonne in Paris, Macron sought to present a new vision for the EU as it reels under the rise of far-right nationalism, mass migration and Brexit.
Macron called for a joint military “rapid response force,” a common defense budget, a single asylum system and an EU border force. He said the single-currency eurozone should have its own budget and finance minister.
“The Europe we know is too weak, too slow, too inefficient, but only Europe gives us the capacity to act on the world stage in the face of the big, contemporary challenges,” he said.
Macron campaigned for the French presidency on a forcefully pro-European platform. But his vision has been complicated by the German election results and the bloody nose they inflicted on Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose cooperation will be vital to achieving his aims.
Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party and its sister grouping, the Christian Social Union, obtained just 33% of the vote and will need to forge a deal with other parties to govern. The CDU was already resistant to handing more budgetary powers to Brussels. One of her likely coalition partners, the pro-business FDP, is even more hostile to the idea.
In his speech, Macron called for a single EU corporate tax band by 2020, saying members who refused to implement it should have their aid from Brussels cut.
Macron urged reform of the controversial Common Agricultural Policy farm subsidy system, including tougher measures to fight fraud within it. Traditionally, France has been the biggest beneficiary and staunch defender of the CAP.
He also suggested an increase in development aid for Africa, which he said should no longer be treated as a problem “but as a partner.”
He proposed to finance this by extending the UK’s system of taxing property transactions, known as stamp duty. to across the EU and increasing taxes on carbon fuels as a means of transforming the economic model to a more environmentally friendly system.
“The only path that assures our future is the rebuilding of a Europe that is sovereign, united and democratic,” Macron said.
The French President’s speech echoed one given 25 years ago by former EU Commission President and architect of the single market Jacques Delors.
It was lauded by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who said the EU needed “courage” to move forward.
“A very European speech by my friend Emmanuel Macron. Europe needs courage. Thank you for your support for the work of the EU institutions,” Juncker, the head of the EU’s executive arm, said on Twitter.
Marcon suggested the UK might want to rejoin the EU after his grand plan had been pushed through: “In a few years, if they want, the United Kingdom could find its place… In this reformed and simplified EU that I’m proposing, I can’t imagine that the United Kingdom could not find its place.”