How Macron’s EU vision stacks up to reality :-: Politics


PARIS — Emmanuel Macron’s big speech on Europe offered a mile-high view of how the bloc could look in 10 years — if the French president gets his way.

Now it’s time to come back down to earth.

A day after Macron delivered his laundry list of a speech, the rest of Europe was busy trying to make sense of his at-times abstract proposals, many of which called for new agencies and structures to be created on top of existing ones.

In Berlin, a spokesman for Angela Merkel said the chancellor welcomed the “European passion” and “substance” on display but it was “too early” to comment on what the French president had actually proposed.

While the chancellor has in the past made friendly noises about Macron’s plans, she has sounded much cooler since her reelection last Sunday and the looming start of thorny coalition talks. Some of her potential coalition partners, meanwhile, are not bothering with diplomatic niceties when it comes to describing Macron’s big ideas: They don’t like any of them.

He has plenty of time to work on a skeptical Germany, win allies across Europe and try to shift the tide in favor of his vision.

“You don’t strengthen Europe with new pots of money,” tweeted Alexander Lambsdorff of the liberal Free Democrats, with whom Merkel may govern.

And yet the French president has a clear and powerful mandate at home, and the potential to be in power for the next decade. He has plenty of time to work on a skeptical Germany, win allies across Europe and try to shift the tide in favor of his vision.

In the meantime, it’s worth scrutinizing what he proposed, because it will be the subject of intense debate in the coming months, regardless of how German coalition talks work out.

Here are Macron’s main proposals — what he’s offering, what already exists, and the obstacles to putting them into action.


Macron deliberately climbed down from his original, ambitious plans to reform and strengthen the single currency area, and focused on his proposal to create a eurozone budget. He will still run up against Germany’s repeated opposition to pool resources — outside, that is, of the existing EU budget.

The French president can find comfort in the fact that Merkel recently said she could agree to a “limited” eurozone budget that would strictly focus on helping countries that help themselves — by which she means implement the structural reforms deemed necessary to turn their economies around.

Macron, however, mentioned a timetable that might help move things along. Far from suggesting a quick agreement, he said the eurozone budget could be financed by a percentage of its members’ corporate tax receipts — after said taxes had been harmonized. Considering the complexity of such harmonization, it would give governments ample time to talk about a potential eurozone budget down the road.

There is little chance that the reform Macron is calling for will see the light of day before the 2019 European election. He will be happy enough in the short term if the next German government does not slam the door shut on his idea.


One of Macron’s boldest-sounding pitches was for the EU to equip itself with an “intervention force” capable of acting militarily on behalf of member countries. “In terms of defense our aim must be that Europe is capable of autonomous action,” he said.

Such a force, complete with its own budget and mandate to act, would have to be up and running within three years, he added.

What Macron did not say is that the EU already has an intervention force, hypothetically at least: the EU Battlegroups. With 1,500 soldiers and a command rotating between different states, battlegroups are designed to be deployed with 10 days’ notice for a period of 30-120 days. No battlegroup has ever actually gone into battle — partly because the logistics of getting all EU countries to approve a mission and agree on the rules of engagement are so nightmarish.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivering a speech on the European Union in the amphitheater of the Sorbonne University in Paris on September 26, 2017 | Pool photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

All EU countries have to agree on the nature of the threat and the necessity to respond. That’s no small feat in a bloc where some countries, like France, are nuclear powers and United Nations Security Council members with a culture of military intervention; and others, like Germany, are not.

Then there are the rules of engagement, which must be approved in different ways by each member. In Germany, for example, it’s up to the Bundestag to determine when and how soldiers may shoot, and the conditions for their entry into battle.

If Macron wants his EU defense vision to come true, he will have to find ways of convincing Europe’s conflict-shy states to follow the more trigger-happy ones’ lead, and accept that some may never be full participants in armed conflict.

As for the European defense budget proposed by Macron, it raises more questions than it answers. Where will the funds come from? Will it finance operations, or just research and equipment purchases?

Recognizing such challenges in his speech, Macron said a good place to start would be to use what the EU has already approved for defense: a common fund and a permanent cooperation structure.


The French president would like a “common culture” on counterterrorism and intelligence issues and called “for a European intelligence academy to strengthen links between our countries.”

The EU already has a law enforcement cooperation agency, Europol. But its competencies are limited. Creating a European intelligence academy is feasible but more details are needed to understand what it would actually look like.

Interestingly, Macron used the word academy — not an EU intelligence agency nor a “European FBI” — likely a sign that he knows national capitals will not easily let go in such a crucial area.


Macron called for faster and more effective trade defense, as part of an EU that should shield its people from the harshest effects of globalization. The EU should continue to be open for trade with the world, Macron said. But it should push for “reciprocity” — a French trade buzzword, meaning that if the EU is open for foreign investors and exporters, those countries should accept EU investors and products in return.

His sharpest tool to enforce reciprocity? A new “European trade prosecutor, responsible for making sure our competitors play by the rules and for punishing speedily any unfair trading practices” — a nod to China, which Macron has in the past accused of unfairly subsidizing and protecting its industries while dumping its excess steel, aluminum, solar cells and textiles in the EU.

Macron’s “trade prosecutor” is not an entirely new idea, it already appeared in his campaign program. The EU already has an anti-dumping department, so why the need for a prosecutor? The word “speedily” is the key.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech on the European Union | Pool photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

The French president has a history with Chinese dumping — as economy minister he watched the French and German solar cell industries collapse due to massive Chinese dumping. While the U.S. imposed anti-dumping tariffs of more than 150 percent, the EU was hesitant. When it finally decided to do something, Chinese solar panels already accounted for some 80 percent of EU sales. The proposed tariff of 47 percent would have triggered a trade war with China — so the EU backed down.

While French officials said they can’t give details on the trade prosecutor, it’s clear that he or she would have to react quicker to dumping and possibly investigate illegal subsidies. Southern European countries such as Italy and Spain will probably love the idea. But Germany’s free-trading FDP — which may end up in government — will not.

An earlier version of Macron’s proposal said the prosecutor should also enforce social and environmental clauses in trade agreements. Doing that would be even more difficult, as Northern EU countries despise the idea of linking trade deals to environmental and social rules. The Commission’s trade chief Cecilia Malmström has publicly said she opposes such moves, arguing they would limit the EU’s ability to strike new trade deals.


The EU already has Eurojust to deal with judicial cooperation in criminal matters. But as with Europol, it has no real investigative powers. Macron wants to boost EU powers on security and “to establish a European prosecutor office for terrorism and organized crimes.”

Having European prosecutors is not a new idea. The EU can already do it, specifically to investigate misuse of EU funds. But countries have been fighting for more than two years over its role and authority. In April, 16 countries decided to push ahead without the rest. The European Parliament backed the idea, and will debate it next week in Strasbourg.

Macron also called for a boost to the fight against terrorism funding and to shut down online terrorism propaganda, ideas Brussels has been working on for some time.

Critics of pan-EU lists, including the largest group in the Parliament — the European People’s Party — say that they would widen the gap between EU citizens and politicians.

Lastly, the French president supported another idea Brussels is already working on — boosting the EU’s role in cybersecurity, one of the main proposals outlined by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his State of the Union speech.


Referencing the summer’s headline-grabbing egg scandal, Macron proposed a reformed — and more intrusive — EU food safety regime. “We must establish a European force for investigation and control to fight against fraud, guarantee food safety, [and] assure quality standards everywhere in Europe,” he said.

At present, national food safety agencies do the grunt work of sending sleuths to farms and factories to check compliance, sometimes in coordination with the police. However, the Parma-based European Food Safety Authority has no such powers. Its role is simply to offer the European Commission independent scientific advice, which for political reasons Brussels sometimes ignores.

It’s not entirely clear what Macron has in mind here: A new agency, or more powers for EFSA? If it’s the former, he’ll run up against a Commission shy of ambitious initiatives — and the inevitable question of money. If it’s the latter, he’ll face the same problems. However, now’s the time to argue for more EFSA powers. Brussels established the agency in the wake of fallout from the mad cow disease crisis back in the 1990s.


Macron proposed taking the 73 seats in the European Parliament that will be vacated when the U.K. leaves the bloc, and creating a pan-European list of MEPs.

That idea is not new. It first emerged in a 2011 report by former British MEP Andrew Duff. Earlier this month, the Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee put forward a proposal to distribute 22 of the Brits’ seats among other countries. The remaining 51 seats would be held in reserve and could be used to create a pan-European list or be given to new countries that join the bloc.

Critics of pan-EU lists, including the largest group in the Parliament — the European People’s Party — say that they would widen the gap between EU citizens and politicians.

Macron also proposed reducing the number of European commissioners from 28 to 15, and called on the EU’s founding members to give up on their representatives. “We will set the example,” Macron said. “It will allow us to gather all expertise, rather than to fragment it.”

Again, Macron isn’t offering anything new as the proposal is in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which states that “as from 1 November 2014, the Commission shall consist of a number of members … corresponding to two-thirds of the number of Member States.”

In 2013, EU countries refused to back that idea.

With contributions from Pierre Briançon, Jakob Hanke, Emmet Livingstone, Maïa de La Baume and Quentin Ariès.

Original Article

Related Posts