Europe needs to be stronger, not a U.S. ‘vassal,’ says France’s Macron

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French President Emmanuel Macron made the case Thursday for a stronger, more independent European Union, arguing that Europe needs a more credible defense policy to stand up to Russia and not be a strategic “vassal” to the United States.

In a sprawling speech delivered under the soaring ceilings of the Sorbonne in Paris, Macron outlined his updated vision for Europe’s “strategic autonomy,” including plans to bolster European defense production and expand industrial policy to stand firm against Russia and compete with economic superpowers that no longer play by free-trade rules.

“Our Europe, today, is mortal, and it can die,” he said. “It can die, and this depends only on our choices.”

The speech, which lasted about two hours, was his attempt to set the agenda ahead of European elections in June and shape the E.U.’s course for the next five years.

It comes as Europe tries to maintain momentum on Ukraine aid and mulls what the potential return of Donald Trump to the American presidency might mean for the continent. It also comes less than a week before Macron hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is keen to peel the E.U. away from Washington.

Thursday’s speech was pitched as the sequel to a talk Macron delivered in the same setting in 2017 — and he could not stop himself from making it something of an “I told you so” moment. When he first made his pitch for strategic autonomy, many in Europe were skeptical, he said. That, like so much, has changed.

Macron sketched out how the past seven years have transformed the continent — at least in his telling — and affirmed his call for strategic autonomy.

During the pandemic, the members of the E.U. worked together to buy and deliver vaccines, he said. When Russian tanks rolled into Kyiv, Europe rallied to wean itself off Russian energy, impose sanctions on Russia and surge support to Ukraine.

Europe needs to build on this, he said, creating a union that is more integrated, better defended and more competitive — and never too reliant on the United States.

Macron stressed that Europe can no longer rely on the United States alone for its security. “The United States has two priorities: the United States first and the China question second. The European question is not a geopolitical priority,” he said.

Though the United States is still very much NATO’s most powerful member and the key guarantor of European security, Macron envisioned a time when Europe will be able to defend itself against Russia without American help. To get there, it will have to boost its defense sector, he said.

“How can we build our sovereignty, our autonomy, if we don’t assume the responsibility of developing our own European defense industry?” he asked.

Macron called for the creation of a European academy to train high-ranking military personnel and spoke at length about the need to bolster European industrial production.

“We must produce more, we must produce faster, and we must produce as Europeans,” he added.

Though there is broad consensus about the need to rebuild Europe’s industrial base, his focus on buying European will not be popular in every capital. Indeed, some allies have been irked by his focus on French and European weapons, particularly when it comes to quickly arming Ukraine.

His remarks will also raise some eyebrows in Washington. The speech included several pointed references to the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act and suggested that both the United States and China have decided to abandon the global-trade rule book and go it alone.

“The rules of the game have changed,” he said. And if Europe does not adapt, he said, it will be left behind.

Beatriz Ríos in Brussels contributed to this report.

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