April 20, 2018
Agree or not with what French President Emmanuel Macron vision for reforming the European Union, it is hard not to be impressed with his ambition. Amid trending Euroskpecticism, Macron makes being pro-EU feel cool again.
On Tuesday he addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg. “If you don’t like the European Parliament, you should have run in other elections,” he said by way of mocking Euroskeptic MEPs on hand. The speech, at Macron’s insistence, came as part of parliamentary debate not as a separate formal address — because he is not afraid to confront people he disagrees with.
Macron also addressed what, though often ignored, has to be the single biggest factor damaging the EU’s reputation: that politicians everywhere, including europhiles, tend to attribute all their country’s problems to Brussels while taking credit for anything that succeeds. It is a pretty good short term tactic to get reelected, but hugely damaging to the public’s confidence in the EU. "To carry on in this manner is a fool's game, which may be more comfortable for us to engage in, but nothing will be resolved in this way,” Macron said.
No doubt there is plenty of pushback against what Macron wants to do. He is looking to create a European Monetary Fund to safeguard against future crises, but the Germans — and others —are hesitant to giving up more financial control to Brussels. Amid widespread feeling that the EU is not democratic enough, Macron wants at least some of the candidates for European Parliament to be trans-national — in other words not only working for the interested of multiple member states but also with responsibility to voters in more than one member state.
It is easy to dismiss proposals like this as naive or unrealistic — which is what happens pretty much any time anybody proposes to change anything — except that Macron does not give the impression of being weak or complacent. “I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers,” he said. You might recall that he came out of nowhere to crush Marine Le Pen in the French election last year, ending what felt like an unstoppable populist wave of election victories. Just a few weeks into his term, in a press conference standing right next to Vladimir Putin, Macron called Russian media like Sputnik and RT “lying propaganda”.
After the Strasbourg speech Macron went to Berlin to meet with Angela Merkel. Next week he will go to Washington D.C. for dinner with Donald Trump. "We share so much with [the United States], but this country is rejecting multilateralism, free trade and climate change,” Macron said in Strasbourg. Unlike the populists — who disguise the politics of fear and negativity masquerading as realism — he offers a positive vision of where politics and Europe can go.
“The real France is back,” Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said after Macron’s speech. I have never seen a France like this.