June 15, 2024 12:12 am

Europe risks dying and faces big decisions – Macron

Europe must escape from its self-imposed naivety or face the risk of dying. That was the stark warning at the heart of a major speech on the EU by French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday in Paris.

Over two hours in the historic auditorium of Sorbonne university, the French president said Europe must react fast if it is to survive in a changing world.

“We need to be lucid, and recognise that our Europe is mortal. It can die. It all depends on the choices we make, and those choices need to be made now,” he said.

Mr Macron’s speech was billed as the follow-up to his landmark 2017 Sorbonne speech when, not long after taking office, he first urged the European Union to move towards greater self-sufficiency in defence and the economy.

Coming just a few weeks before European elections, the speech was also being seen as a bid to reinvigorate the lacklustre campaign of his Renaissance party.

Currently the president’s supporters trail a long way behind the hard right of Marine Le Pen.

In a pessimistic appraisal of Europe’s lack of preparedness for the “change of paradigm” now facing the world, Mr Macron said hostility from Russia, lack of interest from the US, and competition from China risked leaving the EU “marginalised and relegated”.

“The era when the EU bought its energy and fertiliser from Russia, outsourced its production to China and depended on the US for its security – that era is over,” he said.

In response he urged European leaders to be ready for “massive strategic decisions” on defence and the economy, arguing that a large dose of protectionism was now essential for European interests.

Europe needed to build up a credible independent defence, he said, so that it could if necessary go to war without the help of the US.

FREDERICK FLORIN MEP Valerie Hayer takes part in a public meeting, as part of the campaign for the European elections, in Strasbourg, eastern France on April 22, 2024FREDERICK FLORIN
Valérie Hayer, a little-known French MEP, is Mr Macron’s lead candidate in the European elections and their party is struggling in the polls

President Macron added that European armies should not be merged but needed to share common goals, such as an eventual continent-wide missile shield, and called for the creation of a European military academy.

With both China and the US – the world’s biggest economies – “no longer respecting the rules” of open international commerce, it was vital that the EU fight its own corner. “We cannot be the only ones obeying the rules,” he said. “We are too naïve.”

President Macron said he “totally assumed” his refusal to rule out sending ground troops to Ukraine, which he first articulated at a speech in February. He said “strategic ambiguity” was an important part of the new geopolitical order. “Why should we tell the Russians what our limits are?” he asked.

But he said Europe needed to show that “we are not just vassals of the United States… that we are a balancing power that rejects the bipolar [world]. We are not just a little portion of the West.”

The president also said that one of the greatest risks to Europe’s survival was its own demoralisation. “Europe can die of itself,” he said. “The risk is we all get accustomed to our own undervaluing of ourselves.”

So he urged Europeans to reconnect with the values that made the continent different.

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP President of the French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) group at the National Assembly Marine Le Pen (L) and RN President and electoral list leader Jordan Bardella sing the national anthem at the end of a meeting to launch the RN's campaign for upcoming European elections, in Marseille, southeastern France, on March 3, 2024CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP
President Macron’s Renaissance party is well behind the far-right National Rally of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella

“We are not like the others. We must never forget that,” he said. “[Europe] is not just a piece of land, it’s a conception of humankind.”

Warning of the dangers posed of online disinformation, violence and pornography, he said Europe’s answer should be to impose a 15-year age threshold for access to social media: “We must take back control of the lives of our children.”

The president’s tone was markedly more alarmist than his speech of seven years ago but then, as he said, a lot had happened since.

He was glad Europeans seemed to be finally waking from their “naivety”, but warned they still did not fully appreciate “we are not armed against the risks we face”.

The speech will be seen as reassuring to his election camp, led by the unknown Valérie Hayer, because it places France at the heart of the European debate, and emphasises Mr Macron’s pre-eminence over other EU leaders.

The danger is that it also exposes Renaissance as a one-horse show, totally dependent on the president’s interventions to make any kind of mark.

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