Macron Calls for Democratic Conventions to Rebuild EU

  • French president speaks at ancient birthplace of democracy
  • Macron reiterates call for euro-zone budget, ministers

Emmanuel Macron

Photographer: Yorgos Karahalis/Bloomberg

French President Emmanuel Macron called for a series of “democratic conventions” across Europe as he vowed that his generation would rebuild citizens’ trust in the European Union.

“Are you afraid of a European ambition that will enable us to win back our sovereignty, our democracy, our confidence?” he asked. “Have this crazy ambition. I promise you we will succeed.”

Speaking at the Pnyx, a hill that was the center of Athenian democracy almost 2,500 years ago, Macron began speaking a few words of Greek to pay tribute to the founders of the city state. Switching to French, and with a stunning view of the Acropolis behind him, he promised to unveil a “road map” by the end of the year for introducing greater democracy into the EU and the euro zone.

Rejecting the calls of populist parties to retreat behind national borders, Macron said “true sovereignty” over the economy and borders can only be achieved at the EU level. “Real sovereignty can only be built through Europe, by combining our forces, not by each one of us turning in on ourselves,” the French leader said. “Our challenges are no longer at the national level. Nations have their place, but the real scale is Europe.”

Macron, 39, has shown a sense of symbolism since his May election: choosing the European rather than the French anthem the night of his victory, hosting Russia’s Vladimir Putin at Versailles, and treating U.S. President Donald Trump to a bone-crunching handshake at NATO. He chose Greece as his first state visit because it’s the birthplace of democracy and because its 2010 bailout laid bare the dysfunctions in the euro area that Macron has vowed to fix. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, 43, spoke before Macron, who littered his speech with citations from the Athenian statesman Pericles.

‘Critical Study’

In his election campaign, Macron frequently linked French and European issues, saying France needed to reform its economy to win the confidence of Germany and other northern countries to win them over to accepting greater European integration.

“Our generation can found Europe again by starting with a deep critical study of what went wrong,” Macron said. “We can’t leave it to those who hate Europe.”

Macron, who defeated anti-EU candidate Marine Le Pen in May, said the conventions across the EU he’s calling for would “decide what Europe we want.” The EU had lost the trust of its citizens, he said, by focusing on “absurd” rules because it had lost the confidence to pursue grander ambitions.

After meeting Tsipras earlier Thursday, Macron said he expects Greece to be able to exit its bailout program when it expires next August and that he supports easing Greece’s debt load. Macron took 40 French company leaders with him to Athens, saying their interest in investing in Greece is a sign of confidence in the country’s recovery.

In his speech, Macron reiterated his call for a common budget for the euro zone with an “executive that is answerable to an elected euro parliament.” He also called for political parties to present Europe-wide lists in the 2019 EU Parliament elections.

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