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Europe is mortal – Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the Sorbonne

On the 25th of April 2024, Emmanuel Macron attended a conference held at the Sorbonne in Paris. As part of his speech, he commented extensively on the issue of further cooperation between EU countries in the context of the continent’s defense, as well as economics and financial policy. It is therefore worth taking a look at the experts’ analysis, which will give us an idea of how Macron’s statements should be understood, and what significant political and economic changes they could signal.

First and foremost, it is worth recalling that this year’s speech given by the French president is highly symbolic. It was at the Sorbonne, still at the beginning of his first term, that he spoke a good seven years ago. In that speech, too, much heed was paid to the future of Europe, including precisely the issue of sovereignty based on the combat capabilities and economic development of EU countries. What’s more, as Amanda Dziubinska – an expert at the Polish Institute of International Affairs and a past implementer of the European Affairs program at Sciences Po in Paris – mentions, one should also keep in mind the upcoming elections to the European Parliament and the related new term of the European Commission. According to the aforementioned expert, Macron wanted to “inspire” voters, as it were, by drawing their attention to pan-European issues and sidelining intra-state matters [1]. After all, in the domestic field, the right-wing National Rally, which opposes Macron, enjoys the greatest support.

Emmanuel Macron devoted a large part of his speech to the defense of Europe. In the speech, we can find mentions of a “European pillar of NATO” and even the independent defense of Europe, should such a scenario prove necessary [2]. Łukasz Maślanka – a chief specialist at the Center for Eastern Studies who used to study at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie – emphasizes the communal nature of Macron’s defense plans. The French president intends to base them on both Germany’s ESSI missile and air defense shield and France’s nuclear deterrence arsenal [2]. What’s more, Macron also reaffirmed France’s support for the Buy European initiative, aimed at convincing EU countries to acquire arms technology from European manufacturers [2]. One can immediately conclude that, in Macron’s eyes, Europe should become an entity independent of the United States, which remains Europe’s most important defense partner, without which Europe would not be able to guarantee its own interests. Greater investment in Europe’s arms sector would not only allow for independence from outsiders, but would also enable EU countries to earn tens of billions of dollars from the sale of military technology, much like the US has been doing for decades. The issue of Europe’s military expansion plans, and more specifically, its combat capabilities to respond quickly to events happening around the globe, as the United States and – soon – the People’s Republic of China are capable of doing. Here, Amanda Dziubinska mentions the launch of the next phase of the European Intervention Initiative and the development of plans for a regional security and defense strategy that will enable the Community to be ready – strategically and functionally – to respond even in such far-flung and hitherto inaccessible areas as the Indo-Pacific and the Arctic [1]. All this is to be made possible by raising the level of military education in the EU, facilitated by the establishment of the European Military Academy [1].

Macron’s words touched upon not only defense, but also the economic future of the Community. Gérard Araud – former French ambassador to the United States and the country’s former permanent representative to the UN – points to four main economic demands made by Macron. They are: deepening the single market, with calls for loosening competition rules; betting on nuclear research and development within the framework of EU countries’ policies and the development of other strategic sectors, supported by the Buy European Act; and, finally, reforming EU trade policy based on strict environmental and social standards, with expressions of support for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada, but opposition to an agreement with the South American trade bloc MERCOSUR [3]. As Araud mentions, the aforementioned demands are ‘very French,’ whereas the protectionism that characterizes them and the move toward monopolies is bound to be opposed by some EU countries [3]. Among the proposals for change, however, we will also find some that a number of European politicians would probably sign up for. These include doubling the Community’s budget, simplifying regulations, and changing trade and competition laws in a way that would allow them to stand up to the US and PRC economies [1]. Indeed, the two aforementioned countries have a number of subsidy programs with which they support economic ventures of internal actors, very often in such key sectors as defense and new technologies. EU law, broadly speaking, frowns upon such practices. Because of the differences in the size of economies of individual countries, subsidizing can lead to a situation in which entities from richer countries drive companies from poorer countries out of business precisely because of the wide range of state aid programs. In addition, Macron explicitly mentions a “prosperity pact” aimed at protecting European capital in the most promising sectors of the economy, such as AI, space technology, energy transition instruments and defense [1]. He also approaches the subject from the financial side, proposing the introduction of a pan-European tax on financial transactions and giving the European Central Bank a new role in which it would not be limited to responding to inflationary troubles [1].

Emmanuel Macron did not leave the subject of Russia out of his speech. In recent times, his statements about potential direct involvement in the Ukraine conflict have been widely reported by political circles across Europe. This year’s speech at the Sorbonne included the concept of creating a “neighborly relationship with the Russian Federation” once the conflict in Ukraine is over [2]. This is interesting because the concept does not fit in with Macron’s previous positions on relations with Moscow. After all, at the beginning of his first term, Macron wanted to make Russia part of the European security architecture, and more recently – he even envisioned the possibility of sending troops of EU countries to the East. Neighborly relations with Moscow fall somewhere in the middle; there is no question of either fraternizing too much with Putin’s state, but the scenario of a direct conflict between Moscow and the countries of Europe would also be far from reality. How is this neighborly relationship to be understood? This is what Macron himself did not explain. What is known, however, is that, according to his plans, the means to maintain such relations would include not only the EU countries, but also the United Kingdom and, once the conflict in the East of the continent is further settled, Ukraine and Moldova [2]. The key factor to motivate Russia to maintain “neighborly relations” with Europe is supposed to be not diplomacy, but Europe’s combat capabilities. Here the French are betting on their own nuclear deterrent capabilities. They are, so to speak, the heart pumping the blood of the entire French defense infrastructure, which, interestingly, Macron would like to expand beyond France. We are referring to the possibility of French nuclear participation in a program of defense and deterrence of the enemy from the entire European continent [2]. The specific proposals concern joint military exercises and could be expanded to include the storage of French nuclear weapons on the territory of allies in the future [2]. However, it should be remembered that the construction of neighborly relations with Russia will not only be based on Europe’s defense capabilities, but also will not be built at the expense of Ukraine’s interests. As Macron mentions, the defeat of Russia as the aggressor in the conflict is a sine qua non for the further construction of a stable security system for the continent as a whole [5]. Therefore, one cannot suspect Macron of any element of pro-Russian attitudes. On the contrary, according to experts, since 2017 has been one of the most anti-Russian and at the same time pro-European politicians not only in France, but also on the entire continent [6]. It’s not just words, but real actions and their consequences, which put Macron in a much better light than his predecessors (François Hollande, for example) or individual German politicians (Angela Merkel), who for years helped build the political and economic architecture that ultimately created the conditions for Vladimir Putin to attack Ukraine. However, Michel Duclos – Resident Senior Fellow at Institut Montaigne – mentions Macron’s individual blunders, including his rhetoric during the 2019 conference with Vladimir Putin in Brégançon, which he even compares to the Normandy negotiations conducted with Putin by Merkel and Hollande. The lack of a firm response from the aforementioned two has de facto enabled Putin to continue his aggressive actions in Ukraine.

A number of proposed changes to Europe’s economy, its security architecture and its relations with foreign partners, with particular emphasis on the United States, China and Russia, are likely to be opposed by a number of European Union countries. However, this does not change the fact that, according to Macron, these are necessary steps to save Europe. As the French president says in the aforementioned speech: “We must be clear about the fact that today, our Europe is mortal. It can die. It can die, and it all depends on our choices. These choices have to be made now.” [4]. The words of the French head of state should perhaps be seen in the context of Europe’s agentship and its place at the table for the major players, rather than the literal destruction of the continent. After all, he had already addressed the issue of Europe’s sovereignty and capacity for self-determination in his first Sorbonne speech in 2017 [3]. Directly in his April speech, he also addressed the issue of multidimensional outsourcing, which Europe has done over the past decades. He mentioned energy dependence on Russia, total reliance on the US for defense, and economic dependence on relations with China [4]. Interestingly, the aforementioned reliance on foreign entities for such key sectors as energy, economy and security does not refer to Paris, which possesses Europe’s largest nuclear energy infrastructure and some of the most capable armed forces in the world, but rather to… Berlin. Apparently, an element of criticism of the German state’s activities in recent years has seeped into the statements made by the French president. Emmanuel Macron believes that all the aforementioned aspects of the state’s functioning must be carried out anew by European entities, in isolation from foreign partners. In his own words: “We must take them back. This is what strategic autonomy is about.” [4]. Regardless of the transformation of Macron’s plans into reality, his ideas are undoubtedly among the most daring and far-reaching in terms of the future of the Community as an entity that is not only a space for economic cooperation, but a means for self-determination and competition with Washington and Beijing.

Fot. Unsplash

Bibliography

[1] Dziubińska A., Sorbona 2.0. Prezydent Macron o przyszłości Europy, [online], 26 April 2024,, [accessed at 2 May 2024], accessible at: https://pism.pl/publikacje/sorbona-20-prezydent-macron-o-przyszlosci-europy

[2] Maślanka Ł., Prezydent Macron proponuje europejską inicjatywę obronną, [online], 29 April 2024, [accessed at 2 May 2024], accessible at: https://www.osw.waw.pl/pl/publikacje/analizy/2024-04-29/prezydent-macron-proponuje-europejska-inicjatywe-obronna

[3] Araud G., ‘Our Europe is mortal. It can die.’ Decoding Macron’s Sorbonne speech, [online], 29 April 2024., [accessed at 2 May 2024], accessible at https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/our-europe-is-mortal-it-can-die-decoding-macrons-sorbonne-speech/

[4] Macron E., Europe – It Can Die. A New Paradigm at The Sorbonne, [online], 26 April 2024, [accessed at 2 May 2024], accessible at and thanks to the translation by Groupe d’études géopolitiques:  https://geopolitique.eu/en/2024/04/26/macron-europe-it-can-die-a-new-paradigm-at-the-sorbonne/

[5] Leonard M., The Macron Moment, [online], 2 May 2024, [accessed at 2 May 2024], accessible at:  https://ecfr.eu/article/the-macron-moment/

[6] Duclos M., Macron’s Sorbonne speech: ‘On the defense of Europe, progress has been minimal since 2017’, [online], 29 April 2024, [accessed at 2 May 2024], accessible at: https://www.lemonde.fr/en/opinion/article/2024/04/29/macron-s-sorbonne-speech-on-the-defense-of-europe-progress-has-been-minimal-since-2017_6669903_23.html

Mateusz Dąblowski
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