Macron likens political divisions in Europe to civil war

During his first speech to the European Parliament, the French President condemned what he called 'a fascination with the illeberal' in Europe 

French president, Emmanuel Macron
French president, Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron has likened the political divisions in Europe to a civil war between liberal democracy and rising authoritarianism.

In his first speech to the European parliament, Macron urged the EU to renew its commitment to democracy, and called for the defence of a European liberal democracy that offered protection of the rights of its minorities.

"I don't want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers that has forgotten its own past", he said, recalling how the EU arose after World War Two.

He is launching debates with voters, aimed at re-engaging them with the EU.

In his speech he condemned what he called "a fascination with the illiberal" in Europe.

“I am for the most integrated and closest possible relationship after Brexit, and there’s a well-known solution – it’s called EU membership,” he said.

Macron spoke about the future of the EU without the UK, and the need for the other 27 EU member states to be united in opposition to the emergence of nationalist authoritarian traits.

As Brexit will leave a big hole in the EU budget he said there should no longer be budget rebates for some member states. He added that France was prepared to increase its contribution.

“There seems to be a certain European civil war: national selfishness and negativity seems to take precedence over what brings us together. There is a fascination with the illiberal, and that is growing all the time,” he told MEPs.

This month Hungary's right-wing leader Viktor Orban, another arch-critic of EU policies, won a new two-thirds majority in parliament.

 “In the future, we must struggle to defend our ideals ... This is a democracy that respects individual minority fundamental rights, which used to be called liberal democracy, and I use that term by choice. The deadly tendency which might lead our continent to the abyss, nationalism, giving up of freedom: I reject the idea that European democracy is condemned to impotence.

“I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers, I don’t want to belong to a generation that’s forgotten its own past,” he said.

Macron also passionately defended the military strikes by the US, the UK and France last weekend against the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons infrastructure. “Do we sit back, do we defend [human] rights by saying: rights are for us, principles are for us, and realities are for others? No, no!” he said.

The speech was heartily welcomed by Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, but received a lukewarm response from others, including Manfred Weber, the German MEP who leads the European People’s party, within which Orbán’s MEPs sit.

Macron’s address was nevertheless generally well received. In a thinly veiled reference to Russia, Macron said the EU was battling against “authoritarian powers ... with a clear strategy to call into question the multilateral system”.

MEPs applauded Macron when he said democracy "is a word with meaning, which emerged from the battles of the past".

He faces a big challenge ahead of the 2019 European elections as his LREM party does not belong to any of the main groups in the European Parliament.

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