French President Emmanuel Macron tells the French ambassadors’ conference in Paris on Monday that it is up to European countries to guarantee the region’s security. Picture: REUTERS
French President Emmanuel Macron tells the French ambassadors’ conference in Paris on Monday that it is up to European countries to guarantee the region’s security. Picture: REUTERS

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for Europe to stop relying on the US for its military defence as he pushed for fresh EU integration in the face of rising nationalism.

The 40-year-old president said he would put forward new proposals for the EU to boost defence co-operation, as well as talks with Russia on their security relationship — an issue of concern for countries on Europe’s eastern edge.

"Europe can no longer rely on the US for its security. It is up to us to guarantee European security," Macron told an audience of diplomats, MPs and international relations experts.

His comments follow US President Donald Trump repeatedly distancing himself from the Nato military alliance, which groups the US with most of Europe and has underpinned European security since World War 2.

Macron’s comments are likely to find support in EU powerhouse Germany after foreign minister Heiko Maas made a similar call for boosted military co-operation last week.

Maas called for Europe to "take an equal share of the responsibility" and "form a counterweight" to Washington as Europe-US relations cool.

France and Germany have both backed the idea of a small joint European response force, and have announced plans to develop a fighter jet together.

Macron came to power in 2017 vowing to overhaul the EU and has pushed for deep political reforms — including a separate budget for the eurozone — which have so far met with lukewarm support. His agenda has been hit by the rise of a new eurosceptic and nationalist government in Italy, as well as resistance from right-wing leaders in Poland and Hungary.

He admitted that "France seems sometimes to be on a solitary path". But he lashed out at the rising tide of nationalism and called for countries to heal divisions over how to tackle the influx of migrants.

"France wants a Europe which protects, even as extremism has grown stronger and nationalism has awoken," he said. "Divisions between north and south over economics, between east and west on migration, too often fracture our EU," he said, urging a "humanist" approach to the changes brought by globalisation. As for the solution, he insisted his approach would be to "give up nothing of the ambitions set out a year ago" when he came to office, which would mean creating a more integrated EU with greater strategic autonomy.

"Do China and the US think of Europe as a power with similar independence to their own? It is not the case," he said.

He also took at a swipe at governing populists in Hungary and Italy, noting that their anti-EU rhetoric seemed to vanish when it came to accepting economic aid from the EU.

"There is a clear approach of European opportunism while claiming to be nationalist," he said, calling out Hungary’s Viktor Orban by name.

He did, however, acknowledge that a lack of European solidarity had played a role in prompting bitter disputes with Italy over migration. "But does that excuse xenophobic comments?" he said in what appeared to be a veiled jab at Italy’s far-right League. "I don’t think so, and I think these xenophobes bring no solutions to the problem they complain of."

In a typically expansive overview of his foreign policy, Macron called for Europe to build "strategic partnerships" with neighbours Turkey and Russia despite their differences.

Britain will also be in line for a "strategic partnership" after its departure from the EU, but Macron warned that Brexit must not come at the cost of the unity of the rest of the EU.

AFP

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