Emmanuel Macron has done Europe a favour, reckons Germany’s opposition leader

(Image: Economist)
(Image: Economist)

Summary

  • But Friedrich Merz insists that the continent has “no time to die”

SEVEN YEARS after his pivotal “Speech on Europe" at the Sorbonne, President Emmanuel Macron of France recently returned to the university to make another resonating address on the topic, expanding on some of the points in a subsequent interview with The Economist. His dramatic warning that “Europe could die" provides an opportunity to reflect on the challenges that face the continent, and the progress it has made since President Macron’s first speech.

The geopolitical landscape has shifted dramatically over those seven years. Britain’s exit from the European Union, the covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war against Ukraine have fundamentally altered the political reality for Europe. Perhaps most importantly, an axis of autocracies now threatens the rules-based international order, attempting to push back against democracy and freedom worldwide. The global power competition between America and China threatens to divide the world once again into two geopolitical hemispheres.

While the conditions under which Europe operates have changed, President Macron has rightly reiterated what the continent must do to survive as a leading political force in global affairs and to achieve a greater degree of sovereignty. Only a truly sovereign Europe can retain the ability to choose its own destiny in a world characterised by great-power competition, radical technological change and the momentous challenge of climate change.

The preservation of a “European way of life" must be at the heart of our efforts, by which I mean: we are more than the sum of 450m Europeans. We are an area of common values and interests, shared history and culture, anchored in democratic tradition and the rule of law. These are the principles necessary for Europe to preserve its freedom, peace and prosperity against threats both foreign and domestic. We can only fight for democracy around the world if democracy is protected at home. I therefore welcome the strong links President Macron has drawn between a member state’s ability to stand by democratic values and its eligibility to receive EU funds.

The European project needs the support of its citizens, and for that it is important to regain control over irregular migration. The rise of right-wing populism is largely driven by the uncontrolled influx of migrants and Europe’s inability to distinguish between those who need protection and those who don’t. The migration pressure from conflict and crisis regions will continue to increase.

It is crucial to secure our external borders and to break the smugglers’ business model. To this end, Europe’s leaders should enable Frontex, an EU agency, to monitor the borders as a full-fledged border police and coastguard, with enforcement powers that are currently reserved for member states. Furthermore, the recently revised Common European Asylum System—a legal framework and agency covering aspects of the asylum process—must now be implemented quickly, including quick determination on asylum applications at the EU’s external borders and the immediate return of those whose request for asylum has been rejected. Asylum procedures in third countries are another approach we should pursue.

None of Europe’s ambitions will become reality without a strong, competitive economy. This is essential for a successful energy transition, to bolster Europe’s defence forces and for the investment to ensure it can lead in cutting-edge technology such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing. This will be as much about changing mindset as finding the required funds: the EU needs a new culture of enabling growth and creativity instead of bureaucracy, regulations, reporting requirements and prohibitions. We need a moratorium on red tape: an end to new regulations that increase the burden for companies and citizens.

Additionally, Europe needs to conduct a more thorough review of its dependence on geopolitical rivals for economic assets and resources. If no better option is available, it must develop the capacity to produce strategic goods such as semiconductors itself. Furthermore, the time has come for a pan-European system of investment control. Foreign investments must be subject to rigid risk analysis. Otherwise, investments in Europe’s critical infrastructure, from ports to rail and telecommunications networks, will pose a threat to the continent’s collective security.

On a positive note, I believe that Europe’s ability to act is far greater today than it was seven years ago. In defence, we have seen several initiatives to strengthen continent-wide co-operation and capabilities, not least the European Defence Fund and the European Intervention Initiative. In the economic realm, the EU agreed a historic €750bn ($820bn) “Next Generation" programme to rebuild after the pandemic. In the area of climate change, the “Green Deal" has paved the way for a transition towards a climate-friendly economy.

Change is possible if France and Germany lead as a concert of power instead of a concert of disharmony. The current state of Franco-German relations—which can be blamed largely on quarrels within the coalition government in Berlin—is a source of frustration across the continent. We need to strive for a new golden era in Franco-German relations, preferably with close alignment with Poland as part of a “Weimar Triangle".

President Macron has done Europe a favour. His assessment of the world speaks to his coup d’œil—the ability to analyse the strategic landscape in a glance. He has brought clarity to the question of how to navigate a hypercomplex political reality. Few will agree with every single proposal that he has outlined. But what is important now is that Europe, with Germany at the forefront, conducts a results-oriented debate on President Macron’s fruitful and forward-thinking contribution. The time to act is now. Europe has no time to die.

The author is Chairman of CDU Germany and the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag.

© 2024, The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved. 

From The Economist, published under licence. The original content can be found on www.economist.com

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