Business Day

Macron talks up EU prospects


The speech Emmanuel Macron delivered on Tuesday about the future of Europe could easily have been anticipate­d as an exercise in wishful thinking or just another attempt to boost EU morale.

Speaking after the German election rattled nerves with a far-right surge, the French president was well aware that his words — and especially the way he would lay out his plans for deeper eurozone integratio­n — would be scrutinise­d, at a time when Angela Merkel’s prospectiv­e coalition partners wouldn’t all necessaril­y be keen to endorse them.

For all its potential pitfalls, this was a welcome, forward-looking speech for the continent. The Brexit vote, Donald Trump, migration and the rise of populism have delivered blows to the EU. Even if the club’s economic prospects seem to be improving, its fragility remains real. Europe’s neighbourh­ood, conflicts in the Middle East, Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey are all sources of concern.

Macron is not the first to try to instil more confidence in the EU’s prospects. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker tried to strike an upbeat tone earlier in September, saying the EU could now “catch the wind in its sails”. Days later, struggling with her own Brexit quandary, Theresa May spoke in Florence of a deep partnershi­p between the EU and Britain after its departure, with security co-operation described as central. In this European autumn of speeches, it remains to be seen whether words can be matched by realities.

Euroscepti­cs will sneer at the rhetoric, but Macron can hardly be faulted for trying to set a vision for the continent when so many uncertaint­ies remain. Now is the time, the French president says, for the EU to be rebooted as a project harnessing “genuine sovereignt­y, unity and democracy”.

His message needs to be heeded: Europe needs more, not fewer, ambitions. London, September 26.

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