Emmanuel Macron's much anticipated speech in the European Parliament marked an important moment for EU leaders in Strasbourg. Finally, the king spoke to his servants, so to speak. And indeed, much has been said in recent weeks and months about Macron's undeniable leadership in the European Union. However, has been discussed about how different the ideas of the "En Marche" leader really are. It turns out that the big changes, aren't that big at all.
In an effort to improve the budget of the European Union, which is currently dependent on contributions by member states (in accordance with their levels of GDP), Macron has argued for "own resources". Increasingly, the call has been made for the EU to levy its own taxes in order to sustain the large-scale responsibilities it keeps taking on. On this topic, Macron keeps backing the current proposal for digital taxation. Digital companies will be judged on their digital activities and even the value of the personal information they hold from users to determine their corporate taxation.
“I support this proposal,” he said. “It is essential, and it will allow, I hope, streams of own resources for the upcoming budget.”
This way, the European Union would slowly move away from a contributions perspective, Switzerland where cantons levy taxes and then send it to Berne, and instead move to more centralisation, much in the image of... France.
Macron not only mentioned the large ambitions that the current EU has, but also those he holds himself for the union. “This budget that we will discuss must express a political project of coherence, efficiency and convergence,” he said in his speech in front of the plenary of the European Parliament. Macron made it clear that rebates, such as the one that was held by the United Kingdom, should not be able to survive Brexit.
How exactly is the strategy of demanding more European integration, while solving the issues of financial difficulties by simply increasing taxation, a fundamentally new idea? He also suggested the introduction of minimum wages in individual member states in order to “renew the European social model.” Macron wants to tax large business in order to spend it on bureaucratic programmes, and override national powers in order to impose stricter labour regulations. Where's the change?
The French president has been very vocal about new posts he intends to create, such as a Eurozone finance minister and has expressed his support for deepening the integration of of a European army. The latter is indeed already on the way: the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) is a project that furthers structural integration of the military forces of the 25 participating countries. This discludes the UK, Denmark, and the neutral state of Malta, which will not be participating. Current plans include upgrades to maritime surveillance, armoured infantry vehicles, and artillery. All in all, informed readers might remember that this was a project that benefited from the great support of former French president François Hollande.
Macron also used his speech in Strasbourg to rail against those opposing a military intervention in Syria, following what investigations concluded to be a chemical weapons attack. He implied that the all-so-often criticised inactivity of the international community could now be resolved, if all nations act together. Once again, Macron is very much in line with the politics and policy of his predecessor.
In fact, while Macron makes phenomenal declarations to EU officials in the European Parliament, the situation at home borders a disaster: the public railway service hardly runs any trains due to a massive strike, the state-owned Air France is hit by strikes, universities are blocked and paralysed by radicalised students, and despite giving in to far-left radicals by abandoning the Notre-dames-des-Landes airport infrastructure project, police are still met with violent opposition when attempting to evacuate the former construction site. Macron however certainly can't be bothered by these instances, given his enormous popularity in Strasbourg and Brussels. Much in the style of François Hollande, Macron escapes domestic politics by being cheered abroad as a "great European".
We might have gotten a French leader who finally has some passion, speaks English, and is vocal about his intentions and reform plans. The solutions however are more of the same.
Hollande is back. He's just younger this time.