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    France's Macron pleads for EU reform, renewal

    By Chen Weihua in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2019-03-07 09:13
    French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the closing session of the Intelligence College in Europe meeting at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Paris, France, March 5, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

    French President Emmanuel Macron called on the European Union to learn from the Brexit lesson and support his ambitious vision for a "European renaissance" in a challenging time, just weeks ahead of European elections.

    In an op-ed published in newspapers in all EU's 28 member states on Monday, Macron, known as a pro-European centrist, described the upcoming European Parliament elections in May as "decisive for the future of our continent".

    There is widespread speculation that the populist candidates might gain an upper hand in the election. Macron has also been haunted by months of Yellow Vest protests that swept French cities.

    "Never since the World War II has Europe been so essential. Yet never has Europe been in such danger," Macron wrote, blasting the rising populism by citing Brexit as the symbol of the danger for Europe.

    "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 border? Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative," wrote the 41-year-old French leader.

    Macron touted the strengths and success of the EU but also called for its timely reform, saying that "nationalists are misguided when they claim to defend our identity by withdrawing from the EU, because it is European civilization that unites, frees and protects us".

    Macron's call echoed that of billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros, who in a column last month argued that "Europe is sleepwalking into oblivion, and the people of Europe need to wake up before it is too late".

    Among Macron's proposals is a European Agency for the Protection of Democracy that would provide European experts to each member state to protect the electoral process against cyberattacks and manipulation.

    Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, echoed Macron in a tweet posted on Tuesday. "Do not allow external anti-European force to influence our elections and decide on key priorities and new leadership of EU. All those who care about EU should cooperate during and after the EP elections. The renaissance of Europe must start now."

    Macron also called for reforming the 26-member Schengen Area which allows free movement between its members. "All those who want to belong to Schengen should accept both stricter controls on outer borders and a common asylum policy for migrants," he wrote.

    On Tuesday, the Paris-based Institute Montaigne released its report Saving the Right to Asylum, calling for overhaul of the asylum system in the EU.

    EU member states are divided over migration policies. Countries such as Germany extended open arms to migrants. Four million asylum applications were filed in Europe between 2013 and 2017.

    While the flow of migrants has decreased since, political tensions between member states have continued to flare and intensify, pushing the union to the verge of disunity, the report said. Poland and Hungary have rejected calls to absorb a share of the migrants coming from the Middle East and Africa.

    In the op-ed, Macron also called to revamp EU's trade and competition policy. He called for "European preference" in public procurement and said the EU should reshape its trade policy, "penalizing or banning businesses that compromise our strategic interests and fundamental values".

    Macron was upset last month when the European Commission blocked the rail merger between France's Alstom and Germany's Siemens. The European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager ruled that the two companies had failed to address the commission's antitrust concerns.

    Macron also proposed a new European Climate Bank to achieve EU-wide environmental targets of zero carbon emissions by 2050 and pesticide use halved by 2025.

    Carl Bildt, co-chair of European Council on Foreign Relations, said Macron gives impetus to the necessary debate about Europe's future challenges.

    "On present trajectory we risk become a play-board, rather than a player, in the new global great power competition," he said on a tweet on Tuesday.

    Ye Bin, a researcher at the Institute of European Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he was quite skeptical about the effectiveness of Macron's proposal for a Conference for Europe, which would trigger a debate of European integration and the revision of some fundamental treaties.

    "I feel he has huge determination and wants to show French political leadership in Europe. But his initiatives are quite hollow. It's hard to imagine that his solutions will impress the French public at the moment, let alone the European public," Ye said.

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