In an impassioned speech on Europe before students at the Sorbonne on Tuesday, French president Emmanuel Macron called on European countries to volunteer to participate in an avant-garde “group for the refoundation of Europe”, to forge ahead with concrete proposals for a more sovereign, unified and democratic EU. “Audacity” was the word that recurred most often.
The atmosphere was electric, and Mr Macron was interrupted repeatedly by applause. The enormity of the French leader’s proposals to, among other things, halve the size of the European Commission and totally integrate French and German markets by 2024, will take time to sink in in European capitals.
Initial reaction in Berlin was mixed. “He can count on us,” said German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, a senior member of the Social Democrats.
France was willing to lead by example and give up its commissioner in Brussels, Mr Macron said, during a speech that lasted an hour and 40 minutes.
The president congratulated German chancellor Angela Merkel on winning a fourth term in office in German elections on Sunday. He knew what a committed European she was. Alluding to the strong performance of the extreme right-wing AfD party, he added,
“I also know how wounded she is to see hateful, nationalist speeches win so many votes. I know that her response will not be timidity, or to turn inward. I know that every time her country has faced historic challenges, she has had the same reaction: audacity and a sense of history.”
Mr Macron referred to the rise of populist nationalism in Europe as “sad passions” which “could carry the day tomorrow . . . because we forgot to defend Europe”.
In Ireland, attention is likely to focus on Mr Macron’s demand for “fiscal convergence”. He suggested that proceeds from corporate tax be pooled to finance European investments. “We must accelerate harmonisation of base rates on corporate tax,” Mr Macron said. “With four clear years ahead of France and Germany, we will be able to finalise it.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said on September 13th that decisions on tax should be taken by majority vote and no longer by unanimous decision.
Mr Macron said divergence in corporate tax rates “feeds a form of disunion, breaks apart our [social] models. It creates fragility throughout Europe.”
He will ask that minimum and maximum corporate tax rates be set in the 2020 EU budget, and that access to EU cohesion funds be conditional on respect for those rates. “One cannot benefit from European solidarity and play against the others,” he said to applause.