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19th Jan 2020

Macron revives multi-speed Europe idea

  • "We have to think up a Europe with several formats," the French president said. (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

French president Emmanuel Macron has revived the idea of multi-speed Europe, while announcing that he will soon make ten "concrete" proposals to reform the EU after Brexit.

"We have to think up a Europe with several formats, go further with those who want to go forward, without being hindered by states that want - and it is their right - to go not as fast or not as far," he said on Tuesday (29 August) in a speech to French ambassadors.

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He said that last year's British vote to leave the EU has shown that the EU must be "more innovative" and "move forward to avoid breaking down".

Macron, who was elected in May on a pro-EU platform, insisted that the EU must be "protective" and closer to citizens.

He said that he will present, after the German elections that take place on 24 September, a series of "concrete" proposals on issues such as the strengthening of the eurozone, social policies, defence, migration or youth and culture.

"Our generation has a special responsibility to rebuild Europe," the French president said later on Tuesday, after a meeting with Luxembourg's and Belgium's prime ministers, Xavier Bettel and Charles Michel.

The three leaders - who are all under 45, French-speaking and hold liberal views - said that they wanted to create a "coalition of the willing" to reform the EU.

At a joint press conference, Macron pointed out that with the eurozone and the passport-free Schengen travel area, the EU was already a multi-speed bloc.

He said that "those who think that multi-speed Europe betrays Europe are not looking at how Europe works today."

"When we don't manage the closest circles with maximum ambition, we take a risk for all of Europe," he insisted.

The French president didn't specify what kind of proposals he intends to make. But he said that the EU leaders should "define objectives, willingness, converging criteria".

"On this basis, we'll create ad-hoc formats, enhanced cooperation, [and] that will enable us to go in one direction or another," he said, adding that "a European vanguard, de facto, will form itself".

By reviving the idea of a multi-speed Europe, Macron is relaunching a debate that divided member states earlier this year ahead of the Rome summit to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European Communities.

France - under then-president Francois Hollande - and Germany had pushed the idea of multi-speed Europe, but countries such as the Visegrad Four (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) had expressed concerns that they would be left behind,

Sixth scenario

After weeks of discussions, the language of the Rome declaration signed by EU leaders in March was toned down.

"We will act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction," the text said.

Just before the Rome summit, the European Commission had also published five scenarios for the future of the EU, including one called "those who want more, do more".

On Tuesday, in a speech to EU ambassadors in Brussels, the commission's president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that he didn't exclude any of the five scenarios, but that he was "convinced that there will be a sixth scenario - that will be the one that we will propose."

He said that he will give more details in his state of the Union speech on 13 September in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

But Macron, in his Luxembourg press conference, said that the debate on the EU's future should "not start in the institutions" but through a "more cooperative method", that includes public opinion.

He said that a lesson from Brexit was that "we can't move Europe forward despite the people or shielded from the people."

Opinion

Macron goes east to test appetite for EU integration

The next few months will be decisive in selecting who stays in the core of the EU and who stays behind, writes Tomas Prouza, a former state secretary for European Affairs of the Czech Republic.

EU struggles with multi-speed idea

EU leaders meeting in Brussels insisted on staying united after Brexit but are still divided over fears of creating new 'elite clubs' within the bloc.

Rome summit tries to restart EU momentum

EU 27 leaders in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of Treaty of Rome, in bid to counter rising challenges after Brexit. But new ideas are scarce.

Poland: Multi-speed EU could 'break apart'

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