Sunday

19th Jan 2020

Opinion

Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

  • The French president also wants collective debts. What music that will be to the ears of spendthrift countries that enjoy living beyond their means (Photo: Consilium)

A few days ago, the president of France sat down and wrote the whole of Europe a letter.

Well, that was how Emmanuel Macron chose to spin the synchronised publication of his opinion article in several different European outlets.

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  • Jan Zahradil: "Macron is right on one thing: Europe needs to change" (Photo: European Parliament)

Clearly keen to discuss something other than the 'Yellow Vest' crisis on his doorstep, he styled his billet doux as a plea for an EU renaissance.

Now, "renaissance" is a word that means different things to different people. My understanding of the original Renaissance is that it was an unprecedented blossoming of political and economic liberalisation, growth of global trade, flow of international wealth and the advance of personal freedom.

Sadly, Monsieur Macron's version promises the opposite - ever greater centralisation, stifled trade, rampant over-regulation and restricted national and individual freedoms.

Even Germany's arch-federalists in the CDU have warned Macron about his over-fondness for centralisation.

So let's take a clear-eyed look at a few of his ideas of renaissance.

Flag, anthem and army

Predictably, Macron renews the call for a "true European Army". This misguided ambition has long been cherished by the federalists alongside their fondness for an EU flag, EU anthem and all the other trappings of state.

It is part of the devious narrative that stems from the European project's 'Big Lie' - the one which insists the European Union alone is responsible for 60 years of peace.

In fact the EU is more of a product of 60 years of peace - not its cause. The real credit for so many decades of relative peace belongs with Nato.

An EU army would needlessly duplicate the efforts of Nato - at best. At worst it would undermine, confuse and confound them to the imperilment of all our citizens.

Macron says too that he wants to reform migration policy. Indeed, he complains that at present the different member states can have widely different policies on asylum and immigration.

That will send a shiver down the spine of any country that wants control of its borders to be its own affair.

Better from Macron would be a promise of tougher immigration checks and a crackdown on smugglers' boats bringing migrants to Europe from Africa.

He wants a European minimum wage.

Such a move might be arguable at a national level as an act of fairness - but never at European level.

When you consider contrasts such as Romania and Bulgaria's productivity alongside Germany or Holland's, let alone contrasting regional economies within those nations, that would mean hammering too many payroll square pegs into too many financial round holes.

The French president also wants collective debts. What music that will be to the ears of spendthrift countries that enjoy living beyond their means.

Macron calls for a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies - to counter the spread of "fake news" and ban international funding political parties, he says.

Like many of his ambitions, it sounds harmless and potentially helpful until you start to question the detail - such as who gets to decide which news is fake and which is real?

Just what power will this agency wield to control the messages that reach us? What constitutes funding?

Plucked from thin air?

He wants to create a European Climate Bank too, to finance the EU's transition to some environmental targets which he appears to have plucked from thin air - namely "zero carbon by 2050 and pesticides halved by 2025".

Again more questions. Who feeds the world's growing population when farmers are arbitrarily denied the tools they need?

How will the planet benefit when the EU has exported its manufacturing jobs, along with its carbon footprint, to growing economies in China, India and Brazil?

And not least, who funds the bank? Although the EU's more prosperous member states may reckon they already know.

I will acknowledge Macron is right on one thing: Europe needs to change.

After all, its economy is tanking, unemployment is excruciatingly high and its pitifully slow strike rate in completing trade deals is holding it back.

But his formula for building change approaches the problem from the wrong direction.

He thinks more statism, more centralisation, more regulation, more uniformity is the way to gain strength.

The opposite is the truth, because he confuses rigidity with strength.

More flexibility, more diversity, greater freedom for nations and individuals to experiment and innovate - that is the way to create economic progress and vibrancy.

The way to engender real strength is through agility and energy, not creaking, clunking centralism.

Instead of being asked how strong they want their federalism, voters must be offered a genuine alternative that embraces genuine reform.

To fix the economy that means concentrating on the benefits of the single market and dropping the fixation with single currency.

To ensure security it means stronger borders, better intelligence-sharing within and outside the union, and acceptance that all military aspects of our security should rest squarely with Nato.

To restore democracy it means closer focus on what matters, fewer and smaller EU institutions, less bureaucracy and fewer bureaucrats, and a clearer link between votes and political outcome.

One clear message from Macron's "letter" is that the lessons of the UK's decision to leave have not been learnt.

We cannot enjoy music if the instruments are out of tune - and it is the same in the EU. When our institutions and politicians are in a different key from the people they are supposed to represent, it cannot work.

That is why we need to retune the EU to meet the wishes of the people.

The people of Europe are crying out for that harmony - for greater freedom, accountability and democracy. Sadly Macron and co think everyone else - not them - are the ones playing out of tune.

Author bio

Jan Zahradil is a Czech MEP, and lead candidate for the European Conservative and Reformists group to be the next EU Commission president.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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