Not yet a federalist


Andrew Duff responds to President Macron

 Emmanuel Macron’s most recent intervention For European Renewal (5 March) differs markedly from his previous orations on the future of Europe. He has dropped ambitious talk of European sovereignty. And he makes no mention whatsoever of the incompleteness of the euro and the consequent instability of eurozone finances. Perhaps acknowledging the decline of Angela Merkel, he ignores the Franco-German axis. He is silent on the future of the Brussels institutions, and he does not mention EU enlargement. 

Instead, Macron asserts that the EU faces two traps. The first, as exemplified by Brexit, is the trap of nationalism. The second trap awaits those who favour complacency and the status quo. Reform, he argues, is vital and must be continuing. 

He has three ambitions: freedom, protection and progress. (French orators love threesomes.) He wants to defend free and fair elections, insulated from Russian cyberwarfare. He wants a tougher and more exclusive Schengen area, insisting that “all those who want to take part” must also accept common asylum and immigration policies of the EU. 

He appears to be frustrated that the Treaty of Lisbon concept of permanent structured cooperation in defence (PESCO) has been watered down by Donald Tusk. Article 46 TEU and Protocol 10 lay down that only those countries who have financial capacity, political will and military capability should be allowed to join the EU’s military club – stiff criteria that the European Council are ignoring. Macron follows previous French presidents in wanting a more exclusive arrangement on security and defence: he proposes a new treaty outside the EU framework, run by a European security council in which the UK could participate, with commitments to solidarity going beyond Article 42(7) TEU and in addition to Article 5 of NATO. 

President Macron’s ‘progressive’ chapter is not liberal, more classically French. He prefers convergence of European industry to competition, and tougher protection against tax free-riding by global companies (viz. American and Chinese). A ‘social shield’ shall be available to all workers, with labour protected from social dumping. Combatting global warming will be made integral to all EU policies. He implies a big increase in EU spending, mostly through new agencies for democracy, asylum, internal security, defence, food safety, scientific assessment, technology innovation, and African development.

In terms of institutional change, Macron suggests a ‘European conference’ of stakeholders to prepare for treaty change. How that fits in with the Article 48 procedures for amending the treaties, which include a Convention, is not clear. There is no mention of his earlier support for the introduction of transnational lists for the next elections to the European Parliament in 2024. Nor does he continue to advocate launching a large eurobond market to liberate national banks from national government, reduce borrowing costs and boost investment. 

That’s a pity. Too many national leaders of the progressive type – from Blair to Renzi, and back – have talked glibly about ‘European reform’ without having more than the vaguest idea of what they are talking about. I hope Emmanuel Macron is not in retreat from his earlier standards of ambition and clarity in which he spoke eloquently of the need for a sovereign European Union with a duty to protect its citizens.

European sovereignty implies the development of a proper federal government equipped with all the assets, instruments and competences to enable the executive, supreme court and federal reserve bank to act effectively above the level of, but in collaboration with the member states. 

That executive must be based on the Commission made fully accountable to the bicameral legislature of Council and European Parliament. It will be responsible, among other things, for running a common fiscal policy on behalf of taxpayers who pool a portion of their sovereign debt. The reformed European Parliament must be linked to proper political parties at the federal level. These, indeed, are the messages of the Manifesto for the Future of Europepublished recently by the Spinelli Group. 

If the French President is to lead the debate about the reform of Europe, he will have to return to grapple with these issues of governance, power politics and constitutional change. Majorities in the European Council need to be built for a much bigger EU budget and a shift in certain competences upwards to the federal level. 

Emmanuel Macron is not (yet) a self-confessed federalist, but his ideas deserve to be heard. It seems he likes to be engaged in debate. The election of the new leadership of the EU institutions during 2019 cannot be allowed to happen in the absence of such a reflection.