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What Europe Needs Now? Some French Arrogance

French President Emmanuel Macron has just set himself up as the European Union's would-be savior. Seen from a Swiss point of view, there's no better option out there.

Macron at the Sorbonne University on Sept. 26
Macron at the Sorbonne University on Sept. 26
Richard Werly


PARIS — There's a lot to be said about the style and content of Emmanuel Macron's address on Europe on Tuesday at the Sorbonne University. The French president has a habit, for example, of talking at length and peppering his speeches with multiple intellectual references, and this one was no exception, with nods to writer Albert Camus, philosopher Emmanuel Mounier and Robert Schuman, one of the founding fathers of modern Europe. Listeners, it's fair to say, could be forgiven for being a bit annoyed or bored by Macron's style.

And yet, what he said at the Sorbonne was actually quite ambitious, certainly more so than how he said it. Seen from Switzerland, the Frenchman's proposals to create a European agency for breakthrough innovation, a new body to control the application of European policies and levy new taxes (including a European carbon tax), should lead to vigorous debates given how removed the ideas seem to be from the demands many European citizens are making for less, rather than more fiscal and bureaucratic burden.

French leaders have a tendency to be arrogant, as everybody knows.

But the determination and ambition shown by the 39-year-old leader, who was elected on his promise of a "transformed" France inside a Europe capable of reinventing itself, must first of all be praised. To gamble as he does on a democratic refoundation of the Community pact, just two days after a far-right party entered Germany's Bundestag, is as laudable in its boldness as it is essential in the face of continuous assault from Europhobic populists.

French leaders have a tendency to be arrogant, as everybody knows. That's the risk. But who else could reshuffle the cards of the European game, inside of a Union that's still stunned by the Brexit vote, the consequences of the financial crisis and the migrant crisis? What other leader directly elected by a majority of voters can claim the same legitimacy, when the old, traditional parties are always tempted, in France and elsewhere, to use Brussels as a convenient scapegoat?

The answer is: nobody.

Emmanuel Macron, thanks to the French system's verticality, is the only European leader in a position to lead the counter-offensive by shaking up European institutions that are recalcitrant to changes and thus quick to ignore the peoples that make their lives more complicated. Tuesday, at the Sorbonne, he laid out the blueprints. Now it's time to start building.

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Kyiv Reality Check: What Ukraine's Friends Say Out Loud — And Whisper To Each Other

Europe's foreign ministers traveled together to Kyiv yesterday to reaffirm their support for Ukraine. It is necessary after the first signs of "fatigue" in Western support, from a Polish about-face to the victory of a pro-Russian prime minister in Slovakia.

photo of Josep Borrell listening to Zelensky speak

EU's chief of foreign affairs Josep Borrell and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during the EU-Ukraine meeting in Kyiv

Johanna Leguerre, EU foreign ministry via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — The symbolism is strong: for the first time ever, Europe's foreign ministers meet in a country outside the European Union. But it looks like a diplomatic ‘Coué’. The Coué method, named for a French psychologist, holds that a person tends to repeat a message to convince oneself as much as to convince others.

In Kyiv on Monday, the European foreign ministers solemnly reaffirmed their commitment to Ukraine, perhaps because it's suddenly no longer as obvious to them as to the rest of the world.

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There has indeed been some hesitation as of late; and it was undoubtedly time for this display of unity, which has stood as one of the major diplomatic achievements since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Hungarian foreign minister was notably absent from the family photo, due to his "Putinophilia", and his Polish counterpart was officially ill, which happens to coincide with the recent Polish-Ukrainian quarrel. It's also a safe bet that, in a few weeks' time, the Slovakian minister could also be missing from such a gathering, following Sunday's election victory of the pro-Russian Robert Fico.

These nuances aside, there was a message of firmness in Kyiv, embodied by the bit of alliteration from German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who predicted that Europe that would soon go "from Lisbon to Luhansk" — Luhansk, in the Donbas region of Ukraine, currently annexed by Russia.

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