Europe is ‘too slow and lacks ambition’ in the face of global threats, says Macron

Europe ‘must show it is never a vassal of the United States’ says French president in keynote Sorbonne speech

Tom Watling
Thursday 25 April 2024 19:59 BST
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Emmanuel Macron taking the EU to task at the Sorbonne University in Paris
Emmanuel Macron taking the EU to task at the Sorbonne University in Paris (EPA)

Emmanuel Macron has urged Europe to improve its defences and cut red tape as it faces existential threats from Russian aggression and American isolationism.

In a nearly two-hour speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris, Mr Macron claimed the 27-member European Union (EU) was “too slow and lacks ambition” before demanding that the bloc does not become a “vassal of the United States”.

“Our Europe is mortal. It could die,” the French president said. “We are not equipped to face the risks. We must produce more, we must produce faster and we must produce as Europeans.”

Thursday’s speech was billed by Mr Macron’s advisers as France’s contribution to the EU’s strategic agenda for the next five years. The agenda is due to be decided after the European elections, which will take place in early June.

Nationalist right-wing parties, including the French opposition party National Rally, run by presidential rival Marine Le Pen, are currently leading in the polls.

Mr Macron hopes his speech will have the same impact as a similar address at the Sorbonne he made seven years ago that prefigured some significant EU policy shifts.

Since then, much has changed, with geopolitical challenges including the war in Gaza, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and disputes between China and the United States.

His stance on ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin have also shifted in the 26 months since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and his speech on Thursday was centred on the new European security order.

Having originally hoped to maintain open lines with Putin in the very early stages of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mr Macron has since become one of Europe’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin, right, Emmanuel Macron, center, and Volodymyr Zelensky pictured at tge Elysee Palace in Paris in December 2019
Vladimir Putin, right, Emmanuel Macron, center, and Volodymyr Zelensky pictured at tge Elysee Palace in Paris in December 2019

“The basic condition for our security is for Russia not to win,” he said. “Europe needs to be able to protect what is dear to it alongside its allies … Do we need to have an anti-missile shield or anti-missile system? Maybe.

“When we have a neighbouring country that has become aggressive and seems to have no limits and that has ballistic missiles [and has] been innovating a lot when it comes to the technology and the range of these missiles, we see that we absolutely have to set up this strategic concept of credible defence.”

His comments come weeks after he called for European countries to be prepared to send troops into Ukraine. Though the remarks were later rolled back, they marked a shift in the French leader’s rhetoric - instead of indicating to Russia what Europe is unwilling to do, Ukraine’s allies should keep all options open.

Despite often clashing with Mr Macron on issues of defence, including on whether to send troops to Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz responded positively to the French leader’s latest remarks.

“France and Germany want Europe to be strong,” Mr Scholz said. “Your speech contains good ideas on how we can achieve this.”

Soldiers of the Czech army are seen during the international Nato military exercise in eastern Germany
Soldiers of the Czech army are seen during the international Nato military exercise in eastern Germany (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Macron has long called for Europeans to be less reliant on the United States, a stance that has gained greater resonance in the face of Donald Trump’s bid to return to the White House and the continued threat of Putin’s Russia. Mr Trump has often accused Europe of free loading on defence at the United States’ expense, even going so far as to suggest Washington may not defend its Nato allies against Russia if they have not met their mandatory spending levels on defence. Many EU officials believe there is currently no credible alternative to the US military umbrella.

But Mr Macron said Europe “must show that it is never a vassal of the United States and that it also knows how to talk to all the other regions of the world.

He also said Europe risks falling behind economically as global free-trade rules are being challenged by major competitors. The European Central Bank should no longer just target inflation, but also growth and climate, he said.

The EU should agree exemptions to its own competition rules so it can support firms in sectors such as AI and green energy in the face of “over subsidies” by the US and China, Mr Macron said.

Europe needs less fragmented markets for energy, telecoms and financial services, and must also cut red tape, he added.

In a swipe at Rishi Sunak’s administration, he said that though Britain and France were “natural allies”, its departure from the EU was “an explosion whose negative effects, from what I can tell, have meant that today nobody dares to propose exits, neither from Europe, nor from the euro”.

In a swipe at Mr Sunak’s Rwanda policy, Mr Macron added that migration policies involving sending migrants to African countries was “a betrayal of our [European] values”.

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