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21.05.2019 Europe

Eye on France: Macron's answer to history

By Michael Fitzpatrick - RFI
Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS
MAY 21, 2019 EUROPE
Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS

In an interview given to forty regional newspapers, and published by most of them this morning, days before the EU parliamentary elections, French President Emmanuel Macron warns against the twin dangers of home-bred nationalism and foreign interference.

There are several things to be said.
First of all, critics of the French leader say he's abusing his position by getting involved in what is, after all, a political battle. The French president is supposed to be above the bickering of mere politicians.

Macron is unrepentant.
He refuses to be a spectator in what he calls “the most important election since 1979, because,” he says, “Europe is under existential threat”.

1979, in case you're wondering, is significant because that was the year of the first-ever election for a European Parliament. There were nine member states, and 410 seats up for grabs. Now there are 28 and 751 seats. Soon, we'll be back to 27 and 705, but those are different stories.

“If, as head of state, I allow the collapse of that Europe which has ensured peace and prosperity, I will have to answer to history.”

Which is placing the bar fairly high.
So, in order to avoid answering to history, the man Macron decides to answer a pack of journalists. Nine, to be precise, because of the way the French regional newspaper groups share stories and reporters.

There should have been more.
Except that the Elysée Palace insisted that the texts to be published would have to be submitted for a final check by the president's office

The presidential game
That particular infringement of professional independence and/or trust caused two papers . . . La Voix du Nord and Le Telegramme . . . to withdraw from the exercise. All the others accepted submitting their work to the presidential censors. Strange, and sad, not to say dangerous.

But then, these are important elections. The bar is high.

Ouest-France is one of the papers that had its version of the leader's words approved.

There we can read what the president thinks about voter participation, the environment, the economy, agriculture, national sovereignty and relations between France and Germany.

The president is asked about the danger that his involvement in the debate could backfire, if the vote is seen as a sort of referendum on his personal performance as French leader.

He accepts that the opposition parties are certainly attempting to promote the European poll as a chance to sanction the president and his government.

Which, Macron suggests, is hardly a reason for him to be the sole figure in the political landscape to remain silent.

Especially, he says, since he's doing such a great job: unemployment is at its lowest for a decade; purchasing power has been increasing at a rate not seen for 12 years; investment is booming and new jobs are being created in the industrial sector.

Even if all that is beside the point.
And the crucial question is . . .
These elections are about one very simple question: do we want Europe to break apart and leave individual nations to face the commercial might of China and the United States, or do we want to build our own European future?

Will the president take a low turn-out personally?
Abstention, he says, is the defeat of democracy. Those who refuse to take part give their vote to those whose only ambition is destruction. That, says the French leader, is what happened in the United Kingdom three years ago with Brexit.

Europe needs a new fundamental convention, a complete overhaul. That, says Emmanuel Macron, should be the first priority for the in-coming representatives.

Immigration needs to be looked at, so does the Schengen travel zone; the Common Agriculture Policy needs fixing, as do Franco-German relations.

And who are Europe's most dangerous enemies? Trump, Putin or the Europeans themselves?

The answer is: the nationalists, those who want division, who refuse to believe in the continent's common future.

And that's why certain powerful Russians and people like the American populist Steve Bannon, are so intent on seeing the whole show fall apart.

Down with populist demagogues
They must be stopped.
The French leader quotes Italian intellectual Umberto Eco to the effect that the language of Europe is translation. Meaning that we can understand one another without necessarily having a shared vocabulary.

Voting across Europe starts in some countries on Thursday, and ends in other countries on Sunday.

How about that for unity?

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