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11th Apr 2021

Migration and climate are EU's top priorities, Macron says

  • Emmanuel Macron did not come with grand new European ideas (Photo: Elysee.fr)

A reform of the EU's migration rules and fighting climate change are the two main challenges for the European Union, French president Emmanuel Macron said in a speech on Thursday evening (25 April).

"At the European level, we decided to have common borders, this is the famous Schengen area with the rules of the Dublin agreements. It does not work anymore," said Macron.

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  • The Macron speech was in response to months of protests by disgruntled French citizens in yellow vests. (Photo: Olivier Ortelpa)

He criticised EU member states that wanted freedom of movement, but refused to take in migrants - although he did not mention such countries, such as Hungary or Poland, by name.

He also did not offer a concrete solution for how to achieve a breakthrough in EU negotiations to reform the Dublin asylum rules.

"The Europe in which I believe ... is a Europe that has a well-founded and common right of asylum and where responsibility goes with solidarity," said the French leader.

His 57-minute address, followed by an hour of answering journalists' questions, was mostly about domestic policies.

It came in response to months of protests by disgruntled French citizens in yellow vests. Those yellow-vest demonstrations began after a tax hike on diesel fuel.

But Macron also wanted to respond to another type of protest, mainly by children, who have been taking to the streets in Europe during school hours to demand more action in the fight against climate change.

"The climate must be at the heart of the national and European project," said Macron.

"The state of climate emergency is there, our youth tells us every moment and our fellow citizens want to act," he added.

He did not come with radical new European proposals, however.

He repeated previous calls for a "minimum carbon price, a carbon tax at the borders and a more ambitious green finance".

This is not a new idea of his - he also called for it in September 2017 and at last year's climate conference in Poland.

The president said that in June 150 French people will be selected to discuss how the climate transition can work best for ordinary citizens.

Macron also committed to set up an "Ecological Defense Council", a ministerial group, "to make the strategic choices and put this climate emergency at the heart of all our policies".

The rest of his speech mentioned another EU member state, Finland, as an example of a country which "invests heavily in early childhood".

In response to a press question about the Franco-German 'engine' of EU integration, he acknowledged France and Germany did not always agree on specific issues like Brexit or climate change, but said that this was normal.

"We have done a lot in [the past] two years," he said, noting for example increased EU cooperation on military matters.

Macron was elected president almost two years ago, in May 2017, in a run-off against the far-right and anti-EU candidate Marine Le Pen.

His approval ratings suffered heavily amid the yellow-vest protests.

But Macron's party, combined with the French liberal party Mouvement Democrate, is still projected to win most of France's seats at next month's European Parliament elections.

A poll published by the European Parliament last week said that they would get 22 seats, or 23 percent. Le Pen's Rassemblement National would come second with 20 projected seats.

The poll said the yellow-vest party would only get 2.7 percent - not enough for a seat.

According to another survey, 64 percent of French respondents said France has benefited from being a member of the EU, which was slightly lower than the 68 percent EU average.

Analysis

Bell tolls for EU asylum reforms

The cornerstone the EU's asylum reforms referred to by the shorthand as 'Dublin' could end up in the scrapheap following the European elections in May.

Opinion

'A Europe that protects': what does that actually mean?

Current challenges to the rule of law, an independent civil society, and the equal treatment of minorities are just as much in need of tackling as are the challenges of globalisation, migration, and digitalisation.

Investigation

Macron's carbon border tax - why hasn't he done anything?

The French president has repeatedly said an EU border tax on carbon emissions is 'crucial'. However, his civil servants have yet to send Brussels a single proposal on how such a levy would work.

Use 25% of budget on climate change, urge EU states

A discussion document by eight EU countries is piling on the pressure for the EU to do more to fight climate change. But their demands are likely to meet German resistance as leaders gather in Romania to discuss Europe's future.

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