The French government of Emmanuel Macron is currently fizzing with ideas on all manner of topics.
Two weeks ago it was a proposal for an "Equalisation Tax" on digital companies' turnover.
Now the President himself has waded into the debate on the future direction of the European Union with a wide-ranging speech at the Sorbonne yesterday.
It follows on from EU commission President’s annual "State of the Union " speech, which proposed its own set of changes to the way the EU is run (and called for a special summit on the future of the EU on 30 March 2019 – the day the UK is due to stop being a member of the EU).
The Macron address lasted for 100 minutes – so there was plenty of time for the ideas to unfold.
For the time-pressed reader, we reproduce below the official English language "digest" of what President Macron had to say:
Initiative for Europe
A sovereign, united, democratic Europe.
Faced with the great challenges of our times, such as defence and security, great migrations, development, climate change, the digital revolution and regulation of a globalised economy, have European countries found means to defend their interests and values, and to guarantee and adapt their democratic and social model that is unique worldwide?
Can they address each of these challenges alone?
We cannot afford to keep the same policies, the same habits, the same procedures and the same budget.
No more can we choose to turn inwards within national borders.
The only way to ensure our future, is the rebuilding of a sovereign, united and democratic Europe.
A sovereign Europe
The six keys to European sovereignty
1. A Europe that guarantees every aspect of security:
- In defence, Europe needs to establish a common intervention force, a common defence budget and a common doctrine for action. We need to encourage the implementation of the European Defence Fund and Permanent Structured Cooperation as quickly as possible, and to supplement them with a European intervention initiative enabling us to better integrate our armed forces at every stage.
- In the fight against terrorism, Europe needs to ensure closer ties between our intelligence services by creating a European Intelligence Academy.
- Every aspect of security needs to be ensured, collectively: Europe needs a common civil protection force.
2. A Europe that addresses the migration challenge:
- We need to create a common area for border management, asylum and migration, in order to effectively control our borders and receive refugees in decent conditions, genuinely integrating them and returning those who are not eligible for asylum.
- We need to create a European Asylum Office that will speed up and harmonise our procedures; establish interconnected databases and secure bio-metric identification documents; gradually establish a European border police force that ensures rigorous management of borders and the return of those who cannot stay; and finance a large-scale European programme to train and integrate refugees.
3. A Europe looking to Africa and the Mediterranean:
- Europe needs an external policy focused on a few priorities: firstly, the Mediterranean and Africa.
- It needs to develop a new partnership with Africa, based on education, health and the energy transition.
4. A Europe exemplary in sustainable development:
- Europe needs to be the spearhead of an efficient and equitable ecological transition.
- It needs to foster investment in this transition (transport, housing, industry, agriculture, etc) by fixing a fair price for carbon: through a significant minimum price within its borders; and through a European carbon tax at its borders to ensure a level playing field between its producers and their competitors.
- Europe needs to establish an industrial programme to support clean vehicles and the required infrastructure (charging stations, etc.).
- It needs to ensure its food sovereignty, by reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and establishing a common inspection force to guarantee food safety for Europeans.
5. A Europe of innovation and regulation adapted to the digital world:
- Europe needs to lead and not undergo this transformation, by promoting its own model in globalisation, combining innovation and regulation.
- It needs to establish an Agency for breakthrough innovation, jointly funding new fields of research, such as artificial intelligence, or those that have yet to be explored.
- It needs to ensure equity and confidence in the digital transformation, by rethinking its tax systems (taxation of digital companies) and regulating the major platforms.
6. A Europe standing as an economic and monetary power:
- We need to make the euro zone the heart of Europe’s global economic power.
- In addition to national reforms, Europe needs the instruments to make it an area of growth and stability, including a budget allowing it to fund common investments and ensure stabilisation in the event of economic shocks.
A united Europe
1. Concrete solidarity through social and tax convergence:
- We need to encourage convergence across the whole EU, setting criteria that gradually bring our social and tax models closer together. Respect for these criteria needs to be a precondition for access to European solidarity funds.
- Where tax is concerned, we need to define a "corridor" for corporation tax rates; in social affairs, we need to guarantee a minimum wage for all, adapted to the economic realities of each country, and regulate social contribution competition.
2. The cement of culture and knowledge:
- Creating a sense of belonging will be the strongest cement for Europe.
- We need to step up exchanges, so that all young Europeans spend at least six months in another European country (50% of each age group by 2024), and all students speak two European languages by 2024.
- We need to create European Universities: networks of universities that enable students to study abroad and attend classes in at least two languages. In high schools, we need to establish a process of harmonisation or mutual recognition of secondary education diplomas (as in higher education).
A democratic Europe
Europe’s overhaul cannot be achieved away from the people, but only by involving them in this roadmap from the very outset.
1. The need for debate: democratic conventions:
- For six months, national and local debates will be organised in 2018 in all EU countries that volunteer, on the basis of common questions.
2. Strengthening the European Parliament: transnational lists:
- Starting in 2019, using the quota of seats of departing British MEPs, we need to create transnational lists that allow Europeans to vote for a coherent, common project.
What Europe for 2024?
1. The European Union, our common framework:
- The European Union provides our common basis, founded on (i) common democratic values that are non-negotiable; (ii) a simpler, more protective single market, along with an overhauled trade policy (in three directions: transparency in the negotiation and implementation of trade agreements; social and environmental standards; and reciprocity, with a European trade prosecutor responsible for ensuring our competitors’ respect for the rules and rapidly sanctioning any unfair practices).
- If it enables ambitious differentiation, this EU could gradually expand to include the Western Balkan countries.
- That will require reform of EU institutions, with a smaller Commission (15 members).
2. Differentiation through ambition:
- Within this EU, those who want to go further and faster need to be able to do so unhindered. Cooperation will always be open to all, based on the sole criterion of the level of shared ambition, with no predefined format.
3. The Franco-German engine:
- Faced with these challenges, the Franco-German engine will be decisive. "Why not, for example, set ourselves the goal of totally integrating our markets by 2014, applying the same rules to our businesses, from business law to bankruptcy law."
- This pioneering and concrete spirit is that of the Élysée Treaty. France proposes to undertake a review of the Treaty showing renewed common ambition.
4. Group for overhauling Europe:
- All States who share this ambition can take part in the launch of a "group for overhauling Europe in the coming weeks".
- This group will include representatives of each participating Member State and will involve European institutions.
- Until summer 2018, it will work to clarify and propose measures that will implement this ambition, drawing on the debates held in the democratic conventions. Theme by theme, the tools required for the overhaul (enhanced cooperation, eventual treaty changes, etc.) will be examined.
The time when France proposes is back. At this moment, I am thinking of Robert Schuman, who dared to propose building Europe, in Paris on 9 May 1950. I remember his powerful words: ‘A united Europe was not achieved and we had war.’
Emmanuel Macron, 26 September 2017