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21st May 2022

Macron calls for new security order and talks with Russia

  • French president Emmanuel Macron also told MEPs the right to abortion and defence of the environment added to the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights (Photo: European Parliament)
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French president Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday (19 January) got a chance to define his Europe.

With EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel both absent in quarantine after a Covid-scare, Macron had a five-hour tour-de-force at the Strasbourg plenary ahead of the French presidential elections in April.

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He spelled out how he sees the EU as France assumes the rotating presidency of the council for the next six months.

The 45-year-old took hits from his French political opponents, including the Green party presidential challenger, MEP Yannick Jadot, who challenged Macron on his stance on migration, blaming him for the deaths of asylum seekers in the English Channel, and accused him of taking no action on climate change.

In France, the president does not take part in debates in the National Assembly, and having to respond to lawmakers' questions in a debate is an unusual affair in the French context. Some MEPs scolded their fellow French lawmakers for challenging Macron.

Macron belatedly ended his Strasbourg stint with a delayed "press conference" where he - and new European parliament president Roberta Metsola - took no questions, prompting several journalists to leave in protest.

Macron in his speech returned to his theme to call for a more autonomous and sovereign EU.

He said Europe needs to set up its own security framework, and further talks with Moscow.

"In the next months, we should come up with a European proposal, building a new order of security and stability, we must build it among Europeans, then share it with our allies in Nato and then propose it to negotiation with Russia," Macron said.

Then Europe should "propose it for negotiations with Russia", he added, saying "we need this dialogue".

Macron also said the EU cannot be satisfied with only reacting to international crises.

He said the EU should better defend its external borders, and promised to push ahead with an EU rapid reaction force, arguing that Europe needs to better equip itself, and "battle against illegal migration".

Macron, whose country has been reluctant to agree to EU enlargement, also said countries of the Western Balkans should be given a clear perspective on joining the EU, and their accession should happen in "a reasonable timeframe".

Macron attempted to define a European identity referring to Christianity, the Enlightenment, a European historical and cultural heritage.

He pledged to "bring together the best historians, intellectuals to build together the fruits of the common history".

'End of rule of law is beginning of authoritarianism'

Macron portrayed himself as the defender of the rule of law, which has recently been under pressure in Poland and Hungary, two member states under EU scrutiny for concerns over judicial independence and democratic backsliding.

"We are a generation that is discovering again how democracy and rule of law can be made fragile," he said, but without mentioning Hungary or Poland.

He said the rule of law is "not an invention by Brussels", but a result of Europe's common history, and the fight against totalitarianism.

"The end of the rule of law is the beginning of authoritarianism," he said, adding that it can be defended through dialogue, with "convincing people that have drifted away from the respect of it," to return to it.

The Covid-19 pandemic, he argued, has shown that societies that are free and open have protected their citizens and economies better than authoritarian regimes.

Macron also said he would push to have the right to abortion and defence of the environment added to the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

"We must update this charter to be more explicit on protection of the environment, [and] the recognition of the right to an abortion," Macron told MEPs.

He said that growing inequality in the EU meant that a new model was needed to meet climate and digital challenges, underlining the need to limit the power of tech giants.

The centre-right European People's Party (EPP) group leader Manfred Weber warned Macron that having EU leaders come to the parliament every six months at the beginning of the presidencies is a "boring" exercise.

"We hear the the same," he said, telling Macron to take concrete action on Russia, and on rule of law. "We need actions, not words," Weber added, saying the real question is how to keep splitting western societies together and prevent further polarisation.

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