In Depth

Macron sets out radical vision for Europe

With Merkel seeking coalition partners, how many of French president's goals are achievable?

Emmanuel Macron has laid out an ambitious plan for an integrated Europe, calling for a single defence budget, an EU defence force and a shared budget for eurozone countries.

Speaking at the Sorbonne University in Paris, the French President laid out plans for EU identity cards, an EU-wide asylum agency to tackle migration, a European agency to deal with counter-terrorism and an aspiration for every child to speak at least two foreign EU languages by 2024.

He also backed EU taxes on big internet companies and international action to regulate online activity.

The Daily Telegraph reports Macron's suggestion that “Britain could return to a multi-speed European Union once it has undergone sweeping reforms”.

In a highly-anticipated and wide-ranging speech, the staunch Europhile said: “Europe as we know it is too weak, too slow and too inefficient. But only Europe can give us the means to act on the world stage as we tackle the great challenges of the day.

“What Europe is missing today is a common strategic culture... We need to trace the only path ensuring our future; it is the refoundation of a sovereign, united and democratic Europe.”

Macron, a centrist elected on a platform of strengthening the eurozone and promoting EU integration, has staked his political future on being able to draw EU countries together politically and economically.

But at a time when Europe is beset by tensions between east and west and battling to overcome nearly a decade of economic crisis, “Macron’s earnest and at times high-brow discourse ran the risk of falling on deaf ears,” says Reuters.

His plan may also be hindered by Germany’s recent general election, which left Chancellor Angela Merkel facing months of coalition negotiations.

Macron needs Germany’s backing for planned reform of defence, immigration and economic policy, “yet with Merkel weakened in Germany’s vote and her potential Free Democratic coalition partner even more hostile to aspects of euro-area integration than her own party, the prospect of radical change in Europe looks to have diminished”, says Bloomberg.

Perhaps acknowledging the problems he will have in selling greater European economic cooperation in Germany, “Macron was more restrained on the question of bolstering the eurozone, which had been billed as the centrepiece of his speech”, says the Financial Times.

He did take “an implicit swipe” at critics in Berlin who have opposed the idea of a significant eurozone budget because it would entail more risk sharing and fiscal transfers, the paper says, “but stopped short of laying out specific demand on the eurozone, only reiterating his wish for a common budget funded by corporate tax receipts and supervised by a finance minister”.

On Europe, Macron “is the anti-cynic”, says the BBC’s Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield, but the danger is that “by painting this new Europe in all its integrated glory, he is setting himself a challenge that is impossibly high”.

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