Emmanuel Macron fills up on Europe

On the eve of Emmanuel Macron’s remarks to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday, rumors swirled that some of the parliamentary groups would reshuffle their speakers to use their time in the podium to criticize the French president. The rumors weren’t wrong.

What is usually a formality for a head of state to mark his country’s accession to the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union ended in nearly four hours of campaigning, often with bare hands in what promises to be a deadly French presidential race this spring. Dust followed Macron’s speech outlining a particularly muscular – and particularly French – vision for the EU, with, among other ambitious goals, a common defense against illegal immigration and security threats.

As concerns grow that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be planning another invasion of Ukraine, Macron appeared to break US-European solidarity by calling for a return to four-party negotiations between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. This recipe, the “Normandy format”, was the first European response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

On the eve of Emmanuel Macron’s remarks to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday, rumors swirled that some of the parliamentary groups would reshuffle their speakers to use their time in the podium to criticize the French president. The rumors weren’t wrong.

What is usually a formality for a head of state to mark his country’s accession to the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union ended in nearly four hours of campaigning, often with bare hands in what promises to be a deadly French presidential race this spring. Dust followed Macron’s speech outlining a particularly muscular – and particularly French – vision for the EU, with, among other ambitious goals, a common defense against illegal immigration and security threats.

As concerns grow that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be planning another invasion of Ukraine, Macron appeared to break US-European solidarity by calling for a return to four-party negotiations between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. This recipe, the “Normandy format”, was the first European response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

“Sovereignty is freedom,” Macron told the assembly. “It is at the heart of our European project. It is also a response to the destabilizations at work on our continent.

He went on to say that the Europeans should work this out among themselves before sharing it with their NATO allies and then offering it to Russia for negotiation. Washington has called for a unified approach among NATO allies, which includes 21 of the 27 EU member states, to deal with the threat Ukraine feels from Moscow as Russia has amassed more than 100,000 soldiers at its border.

The Élysée, France’s presidential palace, began backtracking on some of his comments, following a rushed call late Wednesday between Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief; US Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in which they agreed on the need for a “strong, clear and united transatlantic front”.

“That’s why the United States and our allies and partners in Europe have been so focused on what’s happening in Ukraine,” Blinken said while touring Europe this week. “It’s bigger than a conflict between two countries. It’s bigger than Russia and NATO. This is a crisis with global consequences, and it requires global attention and action. Blinken, who was in Ukraine on Wednesday and will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, said the United States will continue to work with allies and partners in the international community.

But in Strasbourg, Macron went further in terms of Europe’s autonomy. He dedicated the six months of the French presidency of the Council of the EU to defining the European agenda in order, among other things, to formulate a real strategy in terms of industry, defence, technological independence and to make his voice heard. on issues of “strategic, conventional armaments, arms control, transparency of military activities and respect for the sovereignty of all European states, whatever their history.

Macron, not unusual for a French president, has for years signaled his desire for greater European sovereignty and “strategic autonomy” – his code for greater independence from the American security policy. He first sketched out his vision for a powerful and sovereign Europe at the start of his term, in a speech he gave at the Sorbonne in 2017, when he began by saying that anyone was already fed up with the Hearing about Europe would just take getting used to.

Macron knew ever since that his re-election campaign would take place just as his country was setting the EU agenda. But hanging his campaign on the EU flag is both a risk and an opportunity for the French president.

Macron’s enthusiasm for the EU made it an “attractive novelty” when he was elected in 2017, and it is only natural that he now tries to use the French Presidency of the Council of the EU as a springboard for his re-election, said Célia Belin of the Brookings Institution. “The only downside is that Europe is even more politicized than before,” she said.

The other main French presidential candidates are all more skeptical of the EU. Far-right candidates such as Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour have long characterized the push to strengthen EU institutions as an attack on French national sovereignty. Valérie Pécresse, candidate of the French centre-right Les Républicains, whose roots go back to the political party founded by Charles de Gaulle, critical the decision to hang the EU flag under the Arc de Triomphe on New Year’s Eve for the start of the country’s European presidency. Although left-wing parties tend to be more EU-friendly, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the main left-wing candidate, wrote a 2019 op-ed in the Guardian which criticized Macron’s vision of Europe, the EU treaties and the Franco-German alliance in Brussels.

Macron may not be officially on the campaign trail, but the political party he founded has been busy making the connection. La République en Marche!—which roughly translates to “La France en Marche!” .”

One of Macron’s close advisers for Europe believes that in the more than four years since the president took office, some EU member states have rallied around his view of the European sovereignty. “The debate has progressed,” the adviser said. “No one in Europe is trying to encourage, for example, the United States to do less for Europe, but to make Europeans do more for themselves.”

More specifically, the French have become decidedly more fond of the EU. In 2016, a year before Macron’s election, 38% of French people had a favorable view of the EU, making them more Eurosceptic at the time than Britons the year of Brexit. Since then, France’s EU approval rating has rebounded to 61%.

But most member states saw a similar surge in support for the bloc after the Brexit shock and as the coronavirus pandemic took hold and the EU handed out generous financial support and COVID-19 vaccines to states. members. The French continue to express less enthusiasm for the EU than citizens of other member countries, such as Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands, where nearly three out of four respondents in a recent poll said they had a favorable view of the EU.

This may give a clue to Macron’s reception in the 705-member European Parliament, where members sit with their political groups, which are multinational organizations representing like-minded parties, rather than with representatives of their own nations.

Yannick Jadot, the Green Party candidate in the French elections, who made remarks on behalf of the Greens despite not being the group’s parliamentary leader, blamed the French president for the death of migrants in the English Channel and the criticized for its support for natural gas and nuclear energy, a debate that has divided the usually close partnership between France and Germany at a time of soaring energy prices. He said, “You will go down in history as the president of climate inaction.”

In a boost, Jadot was followed by Jordan Bardella, an MP for Le Pen in France’s far-right National Rally party, who is also not the leader of his parliamentary group. He used his time on the microphone to accuse Macron of a wave of immigration and call for his electoral defeat.

Bardella’s tone, although not his position, found an echo when Manon Aubry spoke for the left in the European Parliament. She said France’s EU presidency was sacrificed on the altar of Macron’s ambition, but after the French election there would be two months to turn things around with someone else in power . Aubry is a member of the left-wing party La France Insoumise (“La France insoumise”), which presents Mélenchon as a candidate for the presidency.

Polls suggest that Macron, who has always been first, with around 25% in the first round and with a significant lead over his most likely opponents in the second round, will prevail in the April elections. But one thing was clear in Strasbourg: Europe will be a defining issue for Macron’s hopes of staying at the Élysée.

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