French President Macron's five ideas for fixing Europe
The Associated Press
Published Monday, May 15, 2017 11:18AM EDT
PARIS -- Mending Europe's frayed unity is such a high priority for new French President Emmanuel Macron that he's visiting neighbouring Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel on his first day in office.
That should give a welcome burst of energy to the much-maligned European Union and efforts to fix it, even if Macron and Merkel won't necessarily agree on how. Here's a look at five key Macron ideas for Europe:
The EU's precursor was created to bolster trade among European countries and help ensure they never go to war with each other again. Macron wants to go a step further and create new joint European military structures.
European countries already co-operate in some foreign operations and through NATO. But Macron notably wants more support from other EU countries for French military operations against Islamic extremists in Syria, Iraq and Africa's Sahel region.
Germany, too, has supported greater defenceco-operation, but not all European countries are on board -- and it is not clear how such a new structure would work alongside U.S.-dominated NATO.
NO MORE BREXITS
Macron will push a firm EU line with Britain in its negotiations to leave the bloc, in part to deter other members from trying to leave. Germany is likely to support that stance, having made clear that London can't expect a better deal outside the EU than it had as a member of the bloc.
The new French leader recognizes that many Europeans see the EU as a distant, uncaring bureaucracy and wants to remedy that through vast consultations with citizens across Europe.
He says it's unfair for people like the Brexit campaigners to place blanket blame on the EU for job losses, terrorist attacks and other ills without acknowledging its benefits -- and without recognizing that all major EU decisions are approved by national leaders or the democratically elected European Parliament.
One of Macron's most controversial ideas is a shared budget for the countries that use the euro currency.
Macron says such a budget would allow for joint investments, provide emergency financial help, and help the eurozone better react to a financial crisis. It would be managed by a newly created joint finance minister for the eurozone.
Germany, which as Europe's strongest economy has borne the brunt of bailouts for weaker eurozone members, is not thrilled by this idea. The German Finance Ministry, however, is trying to be pragmatic and "focus on what's quickly possible."
Macron wants the 19 nations that use the euro to harmonize their tax policies to allow for fairer economic competition between companies that want to work in other countries.
The new eurozone finance minister would also oversee this, which Macron calls an effort to fight "social dumping," when companies move work or workers to countries with lower taxes.
However for this to work, Macron would have to make domestically difficult changes to France's labour costs and taxes, currently among the highest in Europe. Germany, which instituted a painful process of economic reform more than a decade ago, would welcome its western neighbour following suit.
To deal with waves of migration and the threat of foreign extremists, Macron wants 5,000 new guards deployed on the outer borders of Europe's Schengen passport-free travel zone. He also wants common standards for dealing with refugees and migrants through a European asylum agency.
To stem the refugee flow, he argues for a political solution to the Syrian crisis and more efforts to stabilize Libya and other countries in the region over the long term.
Merkel's government has been grateful for Macron's support for her open-armed approach to refugees, which Macron said "rescued Europe's honour" - rare clear backing on that front from a senior European official.