Europe’s middle classes will only remain reconciled to the European Union if it becomes more integrated, with an effective defence policy, a larger budget and integrated capital markets, and is shorn of vetoes that slow decision-making, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has said.
Setting out his 10-year vision for Europe on Saturday, Macron said he still wanted to see the UK involved in defence, but urged European countries to recognise that in terms of social welfare, Europe had a different values to the US.
The continent, he said, was reaching the hour of truth, the moment when it must decide about greater integration and commonality. He warned: “If the Franco-German tandem do not come up with a perspective for the middle classes, that will be a historic failure.”
Referring to the weakness of the west, Macron admitted he was impatient, if not frustrated, to hear a German response to his call for a strategic dialogue on a more integrated Europe. Asking for a clear answer, he said the countries “have a history of waiting for answers” from each other.
“What’s key in the coming years is to move much faster on issues of sovereignty on the European level,” he said.
He expanded on his controversial call for Europe to open a strategic dialogue with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, saying the only way to end frozen conflicts, including the one in Ukraine, was for Europe to work with Russia. He insisted: “My position is not pro-Russian or anti-Russian, it is pro-European.”
In a reference to the US and the UK, he said: “I hear the defiance of all our partners; I’m not mad, but I know that being defiant and weak … is not a policy, it’s a completely inefficient system.
“There is a second choice, which is to be demanding and restart a strategic dialogue, because today we talk less and less, conflicts multiply and we aren’t able to resolve them.”
Macron said that although the current policy of sanctions and counter-sanctions was not working, he did not advocate they be lifted in the context of Ukraine.
He also said he doubted Russia had ended its direct and indirect interference in democratic elections, saying the best response was to defend Europe’s networks and adding: “I do not believe in miracles, but in policies.”
Macron confirmed he was willing to lift French objections – he denied it was a veto – to opening EU membership talks with North Macedonia, so long as the EU agreed to the accession process becoming less theological, long-winded and bureaucratic. The bloc’s current review of its accession procedures should do away with the idea that progress to accession was not reversible, he said.
Macron was speaking after two leading German politicians affirmed Germany needed to do more to respond to Macron’s offer of dialogue.
The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said: “Germany is ready to get more involved, including militarily.” He called for the “construction of a European security and defence union as a strong, European pillar of Nato”.
Europe needed to respond, he said, due to the sudden emergence of a geo-strategic gap to which the continent had closed it eyes.
He explained: “The real gamechanger is that the era of omnipresent American global policemen is over. Everyone can see that. It is not due to US lack of military power, but to the commitment of those responsible in the White House.”
Decisions on the Middle East were being taken by countries that did not share European values, he said. In Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and the Sahel, Europe “should not cede these crises to those who bring weapons and mercenaries, not peace”, he added.
The German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on Friday warned that Donald Trump’s “America First” strategy had shaken up the international order and fuelled insecurity in an unstable world.
“We are witnessing today an increasingly destructive momentum in global politics,” Steinmeier said, adding: “Every year we are getting further and further away from our goal of creating a more peaceful world through international cooperation.
“Under its current administration, the USA rejects the very concept of an international community. Every country, it believes, should look after itself and put its own interests before all others.”
Steinmeier, whose role is largely ceremonial but serves as a moral compass for Germany, said Europe needed to take more control of its own security, including through higher military spending.
“Only a Europe that is able and willing to credibly protect itself, will keep the US in Nato,” he said.