By Hajer M'tiri
STRASBOURG (AA) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday presented to members of the European Parliament (MEPs) his vision for the future of the EU.
Addressing the EP in Strasbourg, Macron said his speech came at a time of "division and doubt" within "a number of European countries".
He said Europe seemed to be engaged in a "kind of civil war", before decrying the growing "fascination with the illiberal" in reference to the eurosceptic electoral victories in Italy and Hungary, adding that there had never been a time when the EU had a greater responsibility to act.
"We are seeing the emergence of authoritarian powers with a clear strategy that seeks to call into question the multinational system where Europe takes its place," Macron said.
He also said it was not the people who were abandoning the EU, but its leaders.
"Those who trade in fear and populism want to go back to nationalism: this is yesterday's recipe," he said.
– European sovereignty
Macron said a new "European sovereignty" should be built as an answer to the fears and anger of EU citizens. He told MEPs that the answer to authoritarian democracy should be "the authority of democracy”.
“At a time of great change and transformation, the digital revolution, climate change… We are being called on to question the foundation of our society. These have led to fears and unbalances.
“We need to build a new European sovereignty, which will give a clear and firm response to our citizens and show that we can protect them and address their concerns."
Macron said France was prepared to pay more into the EU budget to cope with the gap caused by Brexit, but only after a comprehensive budget reform.
"Those European sovereignties will still need to work on them and they need to be part of a coherent project. We are discussing budget; France is ready to increase its share, but we need to work on re-establishing that budget."
The French leader said there must be a "proper critical debate" on Europe before the next EP elections, scheduled for the spring of 2019.
He also called for more common policies on defense, asylum, tax and the creation of European universities.
"I don’t want to be part of a generation of sleepwalkers who are unaware of their own history," he said.
"I want to be part of a generation that will defend European sovereignty, as it is the only way future generations will be able to decide their future.”
– 'Real France' is back
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told MEPs that “the real France is back”.
“You can count on the European Commission to work together with complicity. You were the one pushing for a social Europe, for the Investment Plan In Europe," Juncker told Macron.
However, Juncker said the European Union was not a club led by France and Germany.
"Europe is not only Franco-German. We are 28 [members],” he recalled.
He said Europe must "stay open" to the Western Balkan countries, or "we will see war" in the region again, like in the 1990s.
“I would rather we bridged the East-West gap in Europe together. We cannot divide each other, Europe is one thing in itself," Juncker said.
Macron is the fourth European leader to have a debate about the future of Europe with MEPs.
The French leader will be traveling to Berlin later in the week for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to try to reach an agreement on proposals for EU reforms by June.