BY MINOAS VITALIS, Europe Editor
On Tuesday, French President Macron gave a speech in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg and said that the EU must build a new European sovereignty. Monsieur Macron said that the EU must embark on much-needed reforms in order to save itself.
He spoke of a “European civil war”, of a European “fascination with the illiberal” and how the response to the challenges we are facing “is not authoritarian democracy but the authority of democracy”. In his speech, he evoked the Second World War and that we must not forget the past, stressing that we need to defend European sovereignty because our forefathers fought to attain it.
The reaction was mixed. While there were numerous compliments from MEPs like Guy Verhofstadt and Manfred Weber, who view Macron as the saviour of the European project, there were also MEPs calling for a genuine debate over competing visions for the future of the European continent.
From Macron we heard the same warm words, the same ideas about how our only choice is to go forward in a more integrated Union, how citizens should be given the chance to decide which lane and speed of travel their country must go towards “ever closer union”. But he neglected to take a step back for genuine debate to take place.
Firstly, you have to ask whether European Union citizens support the movement towards further integration. Rather than the assumption of a silent majority in favour, and dismissing alternative views as that of racists and Nazis, a genuine debate about our future as Europeans must be had and will not return our continent to pre-World War 2 conditions. For Macron to imply this in his speech, with the assumption that only he cares for our future is not only patronising but dangerous.
Macron can only see a fascination with the illiberal and the existence of authoritarian democracy as blocks to further integration. It is rather safe to assume that he refers to Poland, Hungary and the recent Italian elections that saw the far-right surge. But why does he think that the Poles voted for the Law and Justice party (PiS), that Hungarians voted for Orban, and the Italians voted for the Northern League?
It is hard to believe that Europeans are suddenly turning to extreme right-wing parties without a reason, and it is absurd and dangerous to characterize as autocratic a democratic decision that was made in these. It is also absurd to believe that Europeans are that naïve and that we need Brussels to save us when a crisis strikes. Instead of the EU accepting that not all countries are the same, we see an EU trying to intimidate and punish the democratically elected governments of two member states. That is what happened when the EU and Germany decided that the solution to the thousands of refugees, migrants and others reaching EU external borders was to implement a mandatory resettlement scheme across the EU member states. Why should the Polish or the Hungarians be punished because they decided to vote for someone that would defend their borders? Why should we criticize them when they saw what happened in Greece back in 2015? When, through no fault of our own, my country (Greece) had to suddenly welcome and accommodate tens and even hundreds of thousands of people? When a country which can barely take care of its own citizens is left alone to handle a crisis of massive proportions? A crisis that was exacerbated by the actions of other EU member states? Where was that solidarity that Monsieur Macron mentioned time and again?
Further EU integration, if it happens, should not be a process that it is forced on member states, but one that it is encouraged by promoting cultural exchange, by learning European languages, by allowing free trade and the freedom of movement, and it should be a process driven by the Union’s citizens. Yes, the EU needs genuine reform. What it does not need, is politicians thinking that solutions to problems of the 1950s can solve problems that we are going to face in twenty and thirty years time.