French President Emmanuel Macron’s plea for reform of the European Union has been met a mixed reception by leaders on the continent.
In a column published on Tuesday by 28 publications “of record” throughout the EU, Macron called for a “European renaissance” to ensure the future of the bloc and appealed to voters to reject populist parties and politicians in upcoming European Parliament elections.
“Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative,” Macron said. “And this is the trap that threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything,” he added.
Voters throughout the 28-member EU are set to vote in the bloc’s parliamentary elections between May 23-26.
Macron also said he believed the continent was “dying from those who, in a way, have renounced maintaining this desire of Europe”, citing the UK’s impending departure from the EU – commonly known as Brexit – as a “symbol” of the danger facing the continent.
Macron himself defeated an anti-EU candidate in May 2017 to become modern France’s youngest leader, but his popularity at home has dipped since taking office to the strains of the bloc’s anthem, German composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
The column is his furthest-reaching attempt to shore up the EU, where nationalist and populist candidates have seen gains, including in Italy and most recently in the Estonian general election on Sunday.
‘A determined signal’
Among Macron’s reform proposals were the creation of an agency tasked with protecting the bloc’s members states from cyberattacks and manipulation, a ban on the funding of European political parties by foreign powers and a common asylum office.
He also called for Europe to lead the fight against climate change by setting a target of zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
The European Commission, the EU executive, saluted Macron’s call as a contribution to the debate about Europe but said most of the ideas had already been implemented or were under way.
Germany’s vice chancellor also welcomed Macron’s push for reform of the EU, saying the bloc needed to be strong to avoid being pushed around.
Olaf Scholz, who is also Germany’s finance minister, told German newspaper group Funke on Tuesday that the French president had “sent a determined signal for cohesion in Europe”.
Hungarian, Czech criticism
Other European officials were less complimentary, however.
Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis told The Associated Press news agency that Macron’s push did not go “in the right direction”.
Babis said the EU should focus on more fundamental issues instead, such as defence and making the bloc’s common trading market work better.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also dismissed Macron’s plea, saying the French leader was a “pro-immigration politician” attacking those like him who are opposed to immigration.
Orban’s office also accused Macron of censorship, claiming he called for the banning of “posters of the opponents of immigration”.
In recent weeks, the right-wing Hungarian government has been waging a media campaign against EU leaders and their supposedly pro-immigration position.
Orban himself has emerged as a self-styled “illiberal” figurehead for nationalist politicians in Europe, and claimed that “immigration brings increased crime, especially crimes against women, and lets in the virus of terrorism”.
The number of people seeking asylum in the European Union fell for a third straight year in 2018 to less than half the peak during the 2015-2016 migration crisis, according to data published last month by the bloc’s asylum agency.
Last year’s figure was slightly below the 641,000 asylum applications filed in 2014, the last year before a surge in arrivals fleeing war and instability across North Africa and the Middle East by the Mediterranean Sea created a high-profile humanitarian and political crisis within the bloc.