Without naming the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who recently won a landslide victory after a campaign that played on voters’ fears of migration, Macron was scathing of politicians who turned against the weak.
Macron told MEPs: “There seems to be a certain European civil war: national selfishness and negativity seems to take precedence over what brings us together. There is a fascination with the illiberal and that is growing all the time.
“In the future we must struggle to defend our ideals … This is a democracy that respects individual minority fundamental rights, which used to be called liberal democracy, and I use that term by choice. The deadly tendency which might lead our continent to the abyss, nationalism, giving up of freedom: I reject the idea that European democracy is condemned to impotence.”
Macron added that the way forward was not the “cul de sac of the nationalisms that tore us apart in the past”.
The speech was heartily welcomed by Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, but received a lukewarm response from Manfred Weber, the German MEP who leads the European People’s party, within which Orbán’s MEPs sit.
Weber told Macron that people should not be divided into good and bad Europeans depending on their political standpoints.
Voters across the continent should be respected, he said. “Some people call this is old Europe. I call this the democratic Europe,” Weber said, gesturing to the ranks of MEPs representing parties ranging from the Communist party to the far-right.
Nevertheless, Macron’s 40-minute address was generally well received, and touched on a range of challenges. In a thinly veiled reference to Russia, Macron said the EU was battling against “authoritarian powers … with a clear strategy to call into question the multilateral system”.
“We are seeing authoritarianism all around us and the response is not authoritarian democracy but the authority of democracy,” he said.
The French president also said that the true European political identity differed from that of “some of our closest allies, our American ally”. He said: “We share so much with that country but that country is rejecting multilateralism, free trade and climate change.
Following the debate, Macron is hosting a lunch for the parliament’s group leaders, including Nigel Farage, who is co-leader of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy. Farage promised ahead of the meeting that he would “ruin his lunch”.
In his speech Macron repeated his calls for reform of the eurozone, a re-engagement with voters ahead of the European parliamentary elections next year, and moves to protect the continent’s sovereignty in areas ranging from copyright to data, following the Facebook scandal.
He said: “People say people don’t want Europe … They propose yellow brick roads and want to take their people off on an adventure.
“Others affirm that we shouldn’t rush things too fast: that would be paying the game of the populist. This is the familiar mood music of paralysis. We have to be aware of time and time we have. I think all of this is terribly wrong. People haven’t given up on Europe … It is treachery of the clerics that have done this.”
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK