EU must assert autonomy in face of US-China dominance, says Macron

European leaders must not let up on efforts to construct an autonomous bloc that is capable of resisting the duopoly of China and the US, Emmanuel Macron has said in his first extended response to the US presidential election.

The French president said the US would only respect Europe if it was sovereign with respect to its own defence, technology and currency. Warning that US values and interests were not quite the same as Europe’s, he said: “It is not tenable that our international policies should be dependent on it or to be trailing behind it.” The same need for independence applied even more to China, he added.

His analysis came in a marathon interview in the journal Le Grand Continent, conducted last Thursday, in which he called for a redoubling of the protection of the values of the European enlightenment against “barbarity and obscurantism”. Le Grand Continent is the review attached to the leading French thinktank Groupe d’Études Géopolitiques.

Macron suggested 2020 may prove to be a landmark year similar to 1945, 1968 and 2007. Much of the interview considered the extent to which the forces that led to Donald Trump’s election in 2016, and the UK’s Brexit vote, could be contained, and reversed.

“The changeover of the administration in America is an opportunity to to pursue in a truly peaceful and calm manner what allies need to understand among themselves – which is that we need to continue to build our independence for ourselves, as the US does for itself and as China does for itself.”

He explicitly claimed that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was resisting German politicians who have described the search for European autonomy as an illusion, saying such a view is a “historical misinterpretation”.

“It is vital that our Europe finds the ways and the means to decide for itself to rely on itself, not to depend on others in every area, technological, health, geopolitics, and to be able to cooperate with whomever it chooses,” he said.

Macron added that although the US was Europe’s historical ally, cherishing similar principles, “our values are not quite the same. We have an attachment to social democracy, to more equality. Our reactions are not quite the same”.

Macron, who previously criticised Nato as being “brain-dead”, said: “Europe has a lot of thoughts unthought. On a geostrategic level we had forgotten to think because we thought our geopolitical relations through Nato.”

Calling for a reinvention of international cooperation, he said the current multilateral frameworks were blocked. “The UN security council no longer produces useful solutions today. We all have some responsibility to bear when some [institutions] such as the World Health Organization find themselves hostages to the crises of multilateralism.”

He said the deep crisis of cooperation was a crisis born of conflicting values, including the rise of neoconservatism and a breakdown in the universal principle of inviolable human rights. This rupture, he said, “is the fruit of ideological choices fully endorsed by powers that see in it the means to rise, and a form of fatigue, of breakdown”.

Without mentioning Turkey directly, he said: “Authoritarian regional powers are re-emerging, theocracies are re-emerging. It is an extraordinary acceleration of a return of religion on the political scene in a number of these countries.”

Europe, Macron suggested, was fighting against “a colossal step backward in history”, led by those who use radical Islamism to challenge freedom of expression. Insisting he respected cultures and civilisations, he said “nevertheless I am not going to change our laws because they shock elsewhere”.


From Brefusal to Brexit: a history of Britain in the EU



After 47 years and 30 days it was all over. As the clock struck 11pm on 31 January 2020, the UK was officially divorced from the EU and began trying to carve out a new global role as a sovereign nation. It was a union that got off to a tricky start and continued to be marked by the UK’s sometimes conflicted relationship with its neighbours.

The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.

With Sir Edward Heath having signed the accession treaty the previous year, the UK enters the EEC in an official ceremony complete with a torch-lit rally, dickie-bowed officials and a procession of political leaders, including former prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home.


The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted “yes”. Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.

‘Give us our money back’

Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the “iron lady” marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.

It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party. 

The Bruges speech

Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.

The cold war ends

Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.

‘No, no, no’

Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.

Black Wednesday

A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The single market

On 1 January, customs checks and duties were removed across the bloc. Thatcher hailed the vision of “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people”.

Maastricht treaty

Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory. 

Repairing the relationship

Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers’ rights.

Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”

Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.

EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.

Migrant crisis

Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.

David Cameron returns from Brussels with an EU reform package – but it isn’t enough to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party

Brexit referendum

The UK votes to leave the European Union, triggering David Cameron’s resignation and paving the way for Theresa May to become prime minister

Britain leaves the EU

After years of parliamentary impasse during Theresa May’s attempt to get a deal agreed, the UK leaves the EU.

He attributed some of the rise of populism to the effect of a breakpoint in the previous Washington consensus about the virtues of globalisation. “When the middle classes no longer have the means to progress and see their situation sliding year after year, a doubt about democracy sets in. That is what we are seeing precisely everywhere, from the US of Donald Trump, to Brexit and the warning shots in our country,” he said.

Macron warned that social media had become an instrument for the rejection of all expertise, be it political, academic or scientific. “We have not organised a public order for this space. The virtual space over determines our choices today, and at the same time it transforms our political life. And therefore it disrupts democracies and our lives.”

He said he was pursuing the concept of a golden hour, the idea that social media firms have 60 minutes to identify and take down posts that glorify and incite terrorism and hate.

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