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Macron’s Europe speech offers Britain a glimpse of hope

The French President’s vision for “unity without uniformity” in Europe leaves the door ajar for the UK, writes François Le Goff.

The European vision outlined by French President Emmanuel Macron in his speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris on 26 September is a welcome boost for a continent that has been losing momentum for quite some time, engulfed in technocratic debates over budgetary issues and unable to set a clear direction of travel.

President Macron’s speech was designed to appeal to both European federalists and advocates of greater national freedoms by calling for “unity without uniformity” and referring to the old imagery of a multi-speed Europe. And there was a place for Britain in his “reformed and simplified Europe”, which is encouraging news for those in the UK despairing over the lack of progress in Brexit talks.

This is reminiscent of the address given by one of his predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy, in London in July 2016 when he offered to keep the door open to a UK return in a reformed Europe, and confirms that the French leadership wants close ties with Britain. The question of course is how involved Britain would be post-Brexit but it is hard to believe that British expertise and know-how would not play an important role in the many European initiatives that Emmanuel Macron called for in his speech.

Among other things, the French President proposed the creation of a common cybersecurity space, the development of a common strategic culture through a European military intervention force, a European intelligence academy to share experiences in this field and a European research and innovation initiative. Security, digitalisation and the energy transition were key European assets, he explained. Britain is a leader in all three areas. It will therefore be in Europe’s interest to tap into this expertise in order to deliver concrete results for Europeans. This will have to be done while at the same time showing that EU membership continues to have clear advantages. But President Macron seems to have squared the circle with the working hypothesis that “a strengthened EU core will allow greater differentiation” going forward.

For now, Macron’s France has fulfilled its part of the deal. His government is implementing long overdue economic reforms and an ambitious attempt to revive the European project was launched shortly after the German elections. All eyes will now be on Angela Merkel’s potential coalition partners, particularly the FDP, to see how much appetite there is in Germany for Macron’s bold vision. The fact that he did not push too hard on Eurozone integration will certainly help to alleviate the concerns of a party that may well take charge of the German finance ministry in the new coalition.

François Le Goff is General Secretary of the Club of Three. The views and opinions expressed in this article are personal.

Published in September 2017