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Macron bets strongly on Europe

Enmmanuel Macron, in his message to the nation. / Reuters

The start of the French presidency of the Council of the Union puts the president in an unbeatable position to ensure re-election in April

BEATRIZ JUDGE Correspondent in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron is strongly committed to the European Union. And it exhibits an unapologetic Europeanism at the start of the French presidency of the Union Council, which began this Saturday and ends on June 30. Macron will also play this card in the coming months for the presidential elections next April, forcing his opponents to position themselves on Europe.

Nobody doubts Macron’s community commitment. In May 2017, the young president celebrated his electoral victory, with the Pyramid of the Louvre museum in the background, under the chords of the Ode of Joy, the official anthem of the European Union. In his first speech as president he made a defense of the European project. And, in these four and a half years in power, he formed a tandem with former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Franco-German axis defended, for example, the launch of a European recovery fund to get out of the health crisis with the mutualisation of debt and the common vaccine strategy at community level.

Regarding the French presidency of the European Union, Macron promised in his New Year’s speech that it will mark the beginning of “a time of progress to control our borders, our defense, the ecological transition, equality between women and men, the construction of a new alliance with the African continent, a better supervision of the large Internet platforms and culture in Europe ”.

“The year 2022 must be a time of European change,” said Macron, for whom the health crisis “has shown that, united, our Europe can not only be useful, but also a bearer of hope.” He gave as an example the vaccines against Covid-19 or the ambitious recovery plan and its economic consequences for growth and job creation.

“Our Europe is the only way for France to be stronger in the face of world conflicts and the great powers,” added the French president in front of the Eurosceptics. “Long live our Europe, long live the Republic, long live France,” concluded his speech.

The opposition has criticized that Macron, who has not yet officially announced his candidacy, has not postponed the French presidency of the EU until after the elections. They fear that he will use it for electoral purposes. However, this is not the first time it has happened. In 1995 the French presidency of the EU and the elections also coincided.

Macron likes symbols. The Elysee Palace and the Eiffel Tower lit up in “European” blue as he concluded his address to the nation. And the flag of the European Union, made up of 12 yellow stars arranged in a circle on a blue background, temporarily flutters under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Candidates from the right and the far right criticized on social media that they had removed the French flag to put the European one over the eternal flame that burns next to the tomb of the unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.

Symbolic and temporary

The far right Marine Le Pen considered the change of flag “a provocation”. A clear symbol that Emmanuel Macron’s “alleged attachment to France is a lie” is that he “dared” conclude his speech with “the European flag, which the people nevertheless rejected in the 2005 referendum.”

“To preside over Europe, yes, to erase the French identity, no. I solemnly ask Emmanuel Macron to put our tricolor flag back next to Europe under the Arc de Triomphe. We owe it to all of our fighters who have shed their blood for her, ”conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse wrote on Twitter. “The Arc de Triomphe with Macron: after the looting (by the ‘yellow vests’) and packaging (posthumous work of the artist Christo), the outrage,” added the far-right candidate Éric Zemmour on that social network.

Clement Beaune, French Secretary of State for European Affairs, defended in a statement to the AFP agency this “symbolic and temporary” initiative with which they wanted to kick off the rotating French presidency of the EU. And he promised that the French flag will return “in a few days” to the Arc de Triomphe.

In 2008, during the French presidency of the EU, coinciding with the mandate of the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, the two flags, the French and the European, were waved at the Arc de Triomphe, without anyone shouting in the sky.

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