PARIS -- A little less conversation, a little more action, that’s Macron’s plan for Europe in 2020, as revealed by adviser Clément Beaune in an interview with Politico.
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"The French President has spent the past two years setting up his chess pieces. Now, with the new European Commission in office, he wants to get down to the work itself — breaking the political deadlock he says is holding back Europe on the global stage", says Beaune, stating that Macron made a conceptual framework, as Politico reveals.
"We’re not going to do the Sorbonne speech every year”, says Clément Beaune, referring to Macron’s landmark speech on Europe in 2017, in which he outlined his vision for the Continent.
“We are now in the implementation phase”, Beaune says, claiming that Macron has been laying the groundwork for France to take on a greater role in the EU since the beginning of his presidency. Since his election in 2017, he has visited 21 EU countries — some of which hadn’t received a visit from a French president in a decade.
"The idea was to create a “strategy of influence,” says Beaune, “which means, ahead of a Commission decision, we can suggest ideas, go on a tour of capitals, make contributions, write papers with other countries”.
In 2019, Macron set about building up France’s influence within the European institutions: He established the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament; positioned close allies at the helm of the European Central Bank and the European Council, and masterminded Ursula von der Leyen’s nomination to the presidency of the European Commission.
It’s no surprise, then, that the new Commission’s strategic outlook largely maps Macron’s own priorities for Europe: fighting climate change and achieving carbon neutrality; introducing a European minimum wage and eurozone-wide unemployment benefits scheme; boosting the EU’s capabilities on defense; and coming up with a credible policy of security, asylum and migration.
The French President’s European ambitions are the reason he pushed so hard to bring the first phase of Brexit negotiations to a close.
“We have spent half the European Council meetings over the past two and a half years — and it’s not an exaggeration — discussing Brexit,” says Beaune.
Beaune acknowledges that the French President’s hard-charging approach — in particular his stance on Brexit and his decision to block the opening of EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania — could come across as abrasive, but that is just because European officials aren’t used to Paris taking the lead after it spent a decade keeping a low-profile on the European stage.
“Evidently, creating leadership also means creating friction,” says Beaune. “When the president speaks loudly, his objective isn’t to ruffle feathers”.
Another key French goal is to build up so-called European power — a goal Beaune acknowledges hasn’t always gone over well in other EU capitals. “Power has been seen in Europe as a kind of woe,” he says. “Because it was a division of the Europeans, a war of Europeans against each other and a form of auto-destruction", adding that Europe has to get used to wielding power itself.
“Europe is the only global bloc that doesn’t think of itself as a power or as a long-term project”, Beaune concludes.