European Union

Macron outlines vision for reformed Europe

Le Premier ministre grec Alexis Tsipras et le président français Emmanuel Macron lors de son premier sommet européen à Bruxelles, le 22 juin 2017.
Le Premier ministre grec Alexis Tsipras et le président français Emmanuel Macron lors de son premier sommet européen à Bruxelles, le 22 juin 2017. © AFP/EMMANUEL DUNAND

French President Emmanuel Macron sketched a plan to "rebuild" the European Union through wider democracy and public accountability at the start of a two-day visit to Greece on Thursday.


Choosing a symbol of ancient Athenian democracy -- Pnyx Hill -- for his speech, Macron said he intended to present fellow European leaders with a "roadmap" to fix Europe for the next decade.

"Our generation can choose to (do this)... we must find the strength to rebuild Europe," said the 39-year-old centrist, making his first visit to Greece as president.

"We share a history and a destiny... we must defend this heritage," Macron said, with the brightly lit Acropolis as his backdrop.

The proposals, which formed part of Macron's election campaign platform earlier this year, would be submitted to European citizens early next year for a six-month debate.

They include cross-state candidate tickets for the next European Parliament elections, scheduled for 2019, and more democratic legitimacy for the eurozone.

"Let us put together a eurozone parliament which would enable the creation of democratic responsibility," the French president said.

At present, economically weak states such as Greece decry the powers wielded by eurozone finance ministers to determine long-term fiscal policy. Their body, the Eurogroup, is not elected.

The former economy minister and banker argued that losing the EU would be "a form of political and historic suicide," especially at a time when only a united bloc can protect its citizens from cross-border threats such as climate change and terrorism.

But also, only Europe had a tradition of respecting human rights, equality and social justice, he claimed.

 'Good faith'

Earlier Thursday, with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at his side, Macron delighted his hosts by warning the International Monetary Fund to refrain from demanding cuts beyond those already agreed, in upcoming talks.

"The IMF's position should be in good faith and without added requirements," Macron said as Greece prepares to reopen reform talks in return for another tranche of bailout cash.

Greece's third rescue programme, currently financially supported by EU states alone, runs to August 2018.

The IMF has said it will only contribute to the programme if EU creditors take further steps to lighten Greece's debt load, which has yet to happen over strenuous objections by Germany.

Macron on Wednesday bemoaned that the EU had to turn to outside assistance in the first place to rescue Greece in 2010, noting that this reflected a "lack of confidence" between European member states and institutions.

"I don't think that having the IMF supervise European programmes is a good method... the credibility and sovereignty of Europe justified doing things differently," Macron said.

Macron said European rescues were not the IMF's "primary vocation" and that in Greece's case, European ministers spend an excessive amount of time agonising over growth forecasts 25 years into the future, at the global lender's behest.

"If you could tell me my own country's growth forecast in three years I'd be happy," he quipped.

Greece, on the receiving end of two multi-billion euro rescues in which the IMF has been a part since 2010, has frequently complained of the Washington-based lender's demands for fiscal cuts and labour reform.

But Germany in particular has insisted on retaining the IMF, at least in a supervisory role.

Turkey is 'essential'

Macron also had a word of caution to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying the EU had to avoid any sharp break with Turkey.

"I wish to avoid a rupture because (Turkey) is an essential partner in many crises we jointly face, specifically the migration challenge and the terrorist threat," Macron told Kathimerini newspaper.

Merkel said over the weekend that she would ask the EU to call off membership talks with Turkey, adding "I don't see them ever joining".

The EU and Turkey last year sealed an agreement which has helped to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants into Greece.

Ankara has threatened to rescind the deal at times when tensions have flared with Brussels over human rights.

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