(CN) — In a wide-ranging call for a “European renaissance,” French President Emmanuel Macron says Europe must take control of its future by spending more on its own defense and technologies, tightening its borders, standing up to the world’s superpowers on trade while also fighting climate change and protecting European jobs.
Macron laid out his ideas in a letter published Tuesday in newspapers in all of the 28 European Union member states. It was, in its way, a kind of European response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” doctrine.
The letter also serves as a rallying call before European elections at the end of May. It was met with mixed reactions, as some critics called Macron’s ideas unworkable and a promotion of EU overreach.
Macron said a united Europe was more important than ever in a world growing more competitive and cutthroat.
“What country can act on its own in the face of aggressive strategies by the major powers?” the letter asked. “Who can claim to be sovereign, on their own, in the face of the digital giants? How would we resist the crises of financial capitalism without the euro, which is a force for the entire EU?”
Since taking office in 2017, the 41-year-old French president has become the chief standard-bearer for the embattled idea of expanding the European Union. But his ambitions have run up against resistance, in part because of rising nationalism and anti-EU sentiment. He’s also found other European countries, most notably Germany, unwilling to promote his proposed EU reforms.
In his letter, Macron struck a tone to appeal to Europeans who feel uneasy about the EU. He even adopted phrases used by right-wing populists, the forces he’s portrayed as his archenemies. Macron has shifted his political posturing from a pro-business stance to one more sympathetic to workers since nationwide protests rocked his government and France.
“In this Europe, the people will really take back control of their future,” Macron said at the end of the letter, refashioning a slogan used by British politicians such as Nigel Farage, who led the Brexit campaign and said leaving the EU would allow Britons to “take back control.”
Throughout the letter, Macron used Brexit as a cautionary tale for Europeans. On one hand, he said Brexit “symbolizes the crisis of a Europe that has failed to respond to its peoples’ need for protection from the major shocks of the modern world.”
But he added that Brexit shows Europeans the dangers of leaving the EU and listening to “anger mongers, backed by fake news,” who “promise anything and everything.”
“Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the EU market? Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the former border?” his letter asked. “Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative.”
Still, he said the EU was in dire need of renewal and accepting the status quo was “misguided” because that would deny the genuine fears Europeans have.
“We are at a pivotal moment for our continent, a moment when together we need to politically and culturally reinvent the shape of our civilization in a changing world,” he wrote. “Now is the time for a European renaissance.”
He added: “Faced with major crises in the world, citizens so often ask, ‘Where is Europe? What is Europe doing?’ To them it has become a soulless market. Yet Europe is not just an economic market. It is a project. A market is useful, but it should not detract from the need for borders to protect and values that unite.”
To achieve his vision for Europe, he laid out some concrete steps.
On defense, Macron called for a new treaty that outlines obligations to NATO and creates a mutual defense doctrine among EU states. He also wants to increase defense spending and set up a European security council. Europe is facing uncertainty due to growing reluctance by the United States to shoulder the lion’s share of NATO’s costs and by Russia’s resurgence.
On trade, Macron said Europe should not “suffer in silence” and accept unfair competition. He called for penalizing or banning companies that do not meet the EU’s standards on the environment, data protection and taxes.
He said the EU should hire European companies for “strategic industries and public procurement,” just as the United States and China do in their countries.
On borders, Macron said Europe’s security could be guaranteed only by strong borders and stringent border controls. He also called for housing asylum-seekers across Europe. Countries along the EU’s borders say they are unfairly required to look after too many asylum-seekers.
“On migration, I believe in a Europe that protects both its values and its borders,” he said. Immigration from the Middle East and Africa has come to dominate European politics and spurred xenophobia and backing for nationalist parties.
Macron said Europe needs to defend its democracies too by setting up a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies. This entity would counter cyberattacks and the manipulation of elections by foreign actors, he said.
He called for a ban on funding for European political parties by foreign powers and banning online incitement of hatred and violence. These proposals appear to be aimed mostly at Russia, which appears to be meddling in European elections.
Macron also had proposals to help workers. Much of the discontent across Europe is fueled by workers pinched by stagnant wages and unemployment. The EU’s single market has disrupted many economies, and created winners and losers across Europe. For example, labor in Eastern Europe is cheaper and this has taken work away from wealthier countries.
He proposed building “a social shield for all workers” by “guaranteeing the same pay for the same work” throughout Europe and establishing an EU minimum wage “appropriate to each country.”
He said Europe “needs to drive forward a project of convergence rather than competition.”
The French president was no less ambitious on the environment. He called for drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and for Europe to cut by half the use of pesticides by 2025.
Macron said Europe must do more to develop its own tech giants by investing more heavily in EU companies and technologies “on a par with the United States.” He said Europe needs to be on the vanguard of “new technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence.”
He proposed setting up a conference by the end of the year to take action on reforming the EU. He said the conference should also look at amending EU treaties in order to implement needed changes, and that the process should include all voices, from citizens’ panels to business and spiritual leaders.
“We can’t let nationalists with no solutions exploit people’s anger. We can’t sleepwalk to a diminished Europe,” Macron wrote. “We can’t remain in the routine of business as usual and wishful thinking. European humanism demands action. And everywhere, people are standing up to be part of that change.”
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)