French president Macron wants reforms for post-Brexit EU

Emmanuel Macron refers to Europe as being ‘too weak, too slow, too inefficient’ in a speech, unveiling proposals for post-Brexit

27 September 2017, 11:20am
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to set out plans for reforming the European Union at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on 26 September (Photo: the NY times)
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to set out plans for reforming the European Union at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on 26 September (Photo: the NY times)
French President Emmanuel Macron outlined his vision for a "profound transformation" of the European Union and unveiled a series of proposals to deepen the bloc politically as well as harmonise rules across the continent.

At Sorbonne University in Paris on Tuesday, Macron argued the case for institutional changes, initiatives to promote the EU, and new ventures in the technology, defence and energy sectors.

"The Europe that we know is too weak, too slow, too inefficient," he said on Tuesday as he began the closely watched address.

"But Europe alone can give us the ability to act in the world faced with big contemporary challenges."

Macron's proposals for a post-Brexit shake-up include a Europe-wide "rapid reaction force" to work with national armies, and plans to give the 19-member euro-zone a finance minister, budget and parliament.

He went on to call for a new tax on technology giants such as Facebook and Apple – who have been accused of paying too little corporate tax on their businesses in Europe - and an EU-wide asylum agency to deal with the refugee crisis.

Macron also raised the prospect of major changes to the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU's giant farm subsidy programme, which has historically been defended by France and its powerful agricultural lobbies.

Macron was seeking German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s endorsement of his reform agenda.

However, his plans fell through due to shock election results, which saw the anti-immigration, eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) emerge as the country's third-largest party.

Merkel must now try to form a government that is likely to include the Free Democratic Party (FDP), whose leader is an outspoken critic of Macron's European agenda and has said a eurozone budget would be a "red line".

Macron appeared to respond to the FDP chief, Christian Lindner, directly on Tuesday, saying: "I don't have red lines, I only have horizons."

Cooperation from Germany - the other half of the so-called Franco-German motor at the heart of the bloc - is essential, though Macron will also need to convince other European partners.

Along with Brexit and the German elections, Macron's proposals are likely to top the agenda at a two-day summit of all 28 EU members in Estonia starting on Thursday.

Following Tuesday's speech, Juncker, head of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, praised Macron, saying the bloc required "courage" to move ahead.

"A very European speech by my friend Emmanuel Macron. Europe needs courage. Thank you for your support for the work of the EU institutions," Juncker wrote on Twitter.

"What we need now is a roadmap to advance the Union at 27. We have to openly discuss all ideas and decide before May 2019."

Britain is set to leave the European Union in March, 2019, and European Parliament elections are due during the following months.