Time Plus News

Breaking News, Latest News, World News, Headlines and Videos

Macron’s Europe: More ‘sovereignty’, less federalism

Good morning and welcome to Europe Express.

French president Emmanuel Macron is forging ahead with his “sovereign Europe” rhetoric, catching allies off-guard when it comes to Russia and leaving them scrambling to reassure the US and Nato about a “strong, clear and united transatlantic front” (more here and here).

But when compared to his last appearance in the European parliament five years ago, Macron’s federalist ambitions have significantly diminished. We’ll unpack his Strasbourg speech and why he couldn’t escape the shadow of his upcoming presidential election.

Speaking of French ambitions, one piece of EU legislation Macron would like to see an agreement on before the April elections — the Digital Services Act — is facing last-minute demands from lawmakers and lobbyists.

We’ll also look at what Germany’s ex-chancellor, Angela Merkel, did (or rather, didn’t do) next.

This article is an on-site version of our Europe Express newsletter. Sign up here to get the newsletter sent straight to your inbox every weekday morning

Campaign trail via Strasbourg

French president Emmanuel Macron was back in the European parliament in Strasbourg yesterday — the first time he has addressed the chamber since his election in 2017, writes Mehreen Khan in Strasbourg.

Macron cut a markedly different figure from his 2017 pose. Back then it was big on grand EU visions, the Franco-German alliance and a revival of ever closer union after Brexit.

Today’s Macron is in the midst of a highly charged re-election campaign, having turned rightward on social issues and battling a pandemic at home. His main political opponents in April’s two-round vote range from the rightwing Valérie Pécresse to extreme-right Eurosceptics Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour.

After four years, Macron’s promise as Europe’s “great reformer” has not quite materialised. That’s in part because of his uneasy relations with the European parliament after the president of France became instrumental in ditching the Spitzenkandidaten (lead candidates) system that gave the parliament the power to select the president of the European Commission.

Macron’s Strasbourg debate was meant to kick-start France’s rotating EU presidency but his domestic campaign was never too far away.

He was careful not to push the buttons of his electoral opponents or make too many statements that could risk becoming a liability at home. He gave a classic defence of the rule of law but refrained from directly mentioning Hungary and Poland — countries with which the French far-right has sought to make common cause. Macron largely stuck to safe topics such as security, defence, migration and Europe’s unique “civilisation” — all catnip for his right-leaning supporters.

His appearance was partly overshadowed by infighting between MEPs who chose to attack each other instead.

Mud-slinging ensued after Yannick Jadot, France’s green presidential candidate and an MEP, used his intervention to criticise Macron’s stance on EU policies such as the green taxonomy. That prompted the socialists and the president of the parliament, Roberta Metsola, to step in to protect the “dignity” of the debate by keeping out domestic politics.

One Belgian MEP said Jadot’s criticism “hinders real European progress”. Others fulminated at the lack of “respect” shown towards Macron. Even fellow greens went after their stable mate Jadot.

It’s a paradoxical complaint from pro-Europeans who often lament the absence of a true European “public sphere”, only to decry the Europeanisation of national politics. It would have been remiss of MEPs to ignore an election whose result will have sizeable consequences for the direction of future EU policy.

As for Macron, he expertly addressed his critics on topics ranging from climate, migration, taxation and foreign affairs. He remained in the chamber for well more than five hours of debate, responding to scores of MEPs and providing the chamber more attention than any EU leader in recent times.

His performance was marred by his failure to extend that courtesy to waiting journalists, who were offered no questions in his post-debate press conference.

Chart du jour: German re-Bund

Line chart of 10-year Bund yield (%) showing German borrowing costs rise above zero

The yield on Germany’s 10-year Bund rose as high as 0.013 per cent yesterday, the highest level since May 2019, reflecting a drop in the price of the debt. In mid-December, the Bund yield had registered about minus 0.4 per cent. (More here)

Last-minute demands

France’s ambition to secure a swift deal on an EU law placing more onerous responsibilities on tech companies risks being thwarted by last-minute demands, writes Javier Espinoza in Brussels.

The French EU presidency has stated its goal to secure a deal between governments, the European Commission and MEPs on the Digital Services Act in the coming months (preferably before the presidential elections in April). But judging by yesterday’s debate in Strasbourg and the hundreds of last-minute amendments, officials are starting to doubt that the timeline can be kept.

The DSA was supposed to be the first time regulators overhauled rules on the way content and products were being policed online in more than two decades but instead it had become a melting pot of dissonant wishes of EU countries and lawmakers.

The European parliament today will vote on its common position on the draft DSA ahead of negotiations with the council and commission, with more than 500 amendments seeking even tougher obligations on big online platforms having been proposed in recent weeks.

During yesterday’s debate, several MEPs made the case that the draft rules are not ambitious enough and do not guarantee a safer online environment for users.

Adding to the mix, lobby groups representing small businesses, as well as large players such as Amazon and Google, made their last-minute attempt to water down the rules. Consumer groups were in contrast calling for lawmakers to toughen the new legislation or risk missing a once in a lifetime opportunity to make the internet a safer place for users.

One hotly debated issue has been whether or not to introduce an outright ban on targeted advertising. Media outlets have also been aggressively pushing to be exempt from new content moderation rules.

“There is political will to move quickly with the new rules,” said an EU official with direct knowledge of the discussions. “But the question is whether the European parliament will put roadblocks and prevent us from moving fast.”

New demands are likely to emerge as the commission, EU member states and lawmakers head for negotiations on the final text.

And despite divergences in the parliament, an internal council document shows countries are also divided on issues such as dark patterns and deep fakes.

Siada El Ramly, director-general at lobbying group DOT Europe, said it was time to stop with the political posturing and get moving. “We are not Hollywood. Let’s get on and get the policy right,” she said.

Joy of missing out (JOMO)

Even before Angela Merkel had withdrawn from the world stage, one of the most frequent questions she fielded in her final days as chancellor was what she planned to do next. The mystery of Merkel’s next move remains, but we now know what it won’t be: working for the UN, writes Erika Solomon in Berlin.

Merkel turned down an offer from António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, last week to take up the chair of his pet project: a global “public goods” advisory board. The body would focus on regulating and co-ordinating issues that affect populations worldwide, such as the ozone, vaccinations and debris from outer space.

Merkel, 67, has kept true to her word and stayed out of the spotlight since handing over the reins to Olaf Scholz.

Merkel repeatedly told reporters she would be in no rush to act and had no plans to “immediately accept the next invitation because I’m afraid I have nothing to do and nobody wants me any more”.

So far the only thing known of Merkel’s post-politics plan is a memoir that she will be writing with her aide Beate Baumann. Baumann told Der Spiegel the book would “explain [Merkel’s] key political decisions in her own words, and look back on her life’s journey”.

After 16 years running Europe’s largest economy, the woman once described as the leader of the democratic world has said she first needs time to think about “what really interests me”.

“And then maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will close because I’m tired, then I’ll sleep a bit,” she once joked. “And then we’ll see.”

What to watch today

US secretary of state Antony Blinken visits Berlin to discuss the Ukraine crisis with Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz and foreign minister Annalena Baerbock.

EU energy and environment ministers meet for an informal council in Amiens, France.

Notable, Quotable

Hello, this is Mr Bunga Bunga

Unlikely comeback: Ahead of Italy’s presidential election due to start next week, 85-year-old media tycoon and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has attempted a political comeback with an attempt to rally cross-party support for his presidency. Current prime minister Mario Draghi remains the frontrunner for the job, however.

Wirecard follow-up: Germany’s financial watchdog BaFin does not have to pay damages to shareholders who suffered financial losses from the downfall of the payments group, a court in Frankfurt has ruled. Investors lost huge sums when the Munich-based company filed for insolvency in 2020 after disclosing that €1.9bn of corporate cash and half of its revenue were fake.

Tory rebellion: Former UK Brexit secretary David Davis has come out against Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the scandal over Downing Street parties held in lockdown broadens. Separately, a Tory MP defected to the Labour party.

Britain after Brexit — Keep up to date with the latest developments as the UK economy adjusts to life outside the EU. Sign up here

Moral Money — Our unmissable newsletter on socially responsible business, sustainable finance and more. Sign up here

Are you enjoying Europe Express? Sign up here to have it delivered straight to your inbox every workday at 7am CET. Do tell us what you think, we love to hear from you: europe.express@ft.com.

Today’s Europe Express team: mehreen.khan@ft.com, javier.espinoza@ft.com, erika.solomon@ft.com, valentina.pop@ft.com. Follow us on Twitter: @MehreenKhn, @henryjfoy, @javierespFT, @ErikaSolomon, @valentinapop.

Source link