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Emmanuel Macron sets high ambitions for the next strategic agenda

Eric Maurice

Date: 26/04/2024

In a speech at Sorbonne University in Paris on 25 April, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a more sovereign and more powerful Europe. This was an echo of his  first speech on the same theme in the same place seven years ago. In 2017, he was a newly elected leader with legitimacy at the EU level, won by his victory over a far-right candidate while running on a pro-EU platform. He is now a second-term president whose Renaissance party is 15 points behind the far-right ahead of the June European elections, and who risks losing political traction in the European Parliament.


From a French perspective, the speech was, therefore, an attempt to salvage the campaign of Renaissance’s lead candidate, Valérie Hayear, who is also the chair of the Renew group in the outgoing EU Parliament. This explains why Marcon was keen to demonstrate first to French voters that the global pandemic, the Russian aggression in Ukraine, and an increasing fragmentation of the international order vindicated his 20217 agenda for European sovereignty – as opposed to the notion championed by Eurosceptics of a sovereignty that can only be at the national level. Remobilising French pro-EU voters also explains why he doubled down on his first Sorbonne speech and argued that “the question of our sovereignty is today even more important than yesterday.”


However, with his comprehensive 1 hour and 50-minute speech, often peppered with technical references, Macron had another and probably more important audience in mind, in Brussels and in the 26 other national capitals. Beyond extending vindication to his fellow leaders, the French president dared them to take bold decisions. “Europe can die, and this depends only on our choices. But these choices must be made now,” he warned them, two months ahead of the adoption of the EU Strategic Agenda for 2024-2029 at the June European Council.

With that in mind, he pleaded for a new leap forward for the funding of EU actions in two main priorities: defence and industry. He called in particular for a “new investment shock” with a doubling of the EU funding capacity, through means such as new joint borrowing or the European Stability Mechanism. He said the EU should achieve a Capital Markets Union in the next 12 months. He proposed to set as an objective the EU leadership by 2030 in five areas: AI, quantum computing, space, biotechnologies, and new energies – with massive public investment to achieve it. He called for a European preference in defence and space.


By raising the stakes so high, the French President launched a new bid for leadership for the new EU political cycle and tried once again to position himself at the centre of the EU political dynamics. His Sorbonne proposals, along with the report on the Single Market handed earlier in April by Enrico Letta, and the forthcoming report on competitiveness by the former president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, are now likely to be a benchmark for EU leaders to position themselves in the discussion on the Strategic Agenda. With concrete proposals on the table from two respected figures and a disruptive leader, it is up to the European Council to raise its ambition.

Eric Maurice is a Policy Analyst in the European Politics and Institutions programme.

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