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Focus: How Macron's bid to reform Europe has run into trouble

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Focus: How Macron's bid to reform Europe has run into trouble
Photo: AFP
08:19 CEST+02:00
It was billed as his founding speech for Europe. But 12 months after newly-elected Emmanuel Macron laid out his vision for a deeper, stronger EU, has he actually helped bring about any change?

On September 26 last year, French President Emmanuel Macron laid out his vision for a reformed European Union to blunt the rise of nationalism and ensure the bloc has a future as an independent actor on the world stage.

AFP looks at how he has fared:

1. Institutional reform

Macron's ambition of major EU institutional reform ran into immediate resistance and even cosmetic changes have faced rough going in the past 12 months.

Macron's desire for a eurozone budget was accepted by Germany in June but has been summarily rejected by Netherlands, which is spearheading a group of small, pro free-market nations that frown at the possibility of rich member states having to hand over more to their poorer counterparts.

Germany meanwhile is putting the brakes on the idea of an EU-wide common deposit insurance scheme for the banks, a key plank of efforts to create a fully integrated European banking system. 

Berlin has also vetoed the idea of a eurozone finance minister or a parliament for the 19-member single currency area, which Macron wanted.

Real reform of EU institutions requires changing existing European treaties and changes would have to be put to a referendum in several member countries, making the whole process even more difficult. 

After the Brexit vote, that is a challenge few EU governments are willing to take on.

2. Defence

Macron has fared better in the defence field, with his call for a rapid intervention force being taken up by nine EU states.

His proposals for a permanent structure to simplify military procurement and a new European defence innovation fund with a budget of 13 billion euros have also been endorsed by members.

The leap forward in European defense cooperation has come as many members question whether the United States under Donald Trump is committed to NATO and the defense of the European continent.

Both Macron and German Chancellor Merkel have publicly warned that Europe can no longer rely on Washington for its security and must do more on its own.

3. Tax

The Macron idea of slapping new taxes on US big tech companies has found some success in the EU over the past year. 

A majority of bloc members back Macron's desire to see companies such as Apple, Google and Facebook pay tax where they actually do business, with a concrete proposal expected by the end of the year.

But the devil will be in the detail as tax matters require unanimity in the European Union and resistance by Ireland, Malta and Sweden could easily 
scupper France's ambition.

France could corral like-minded countries to adopt the tax in a smaller grouping, but that was already been tried with the so-called Tobin tax on 
financial transactions which has been bogged down in endless negotiations since 2011.

4. EU identity

Many of Macron's proposals were aimed at fostering a more cohesive "European" identity on the continent, which despite 60 years of ever closer integration remains a patchwork of nation states.

Ideas such as creating so-called "European universities" meant to bring together different national institutions which would share students and expertise, have been adopted and will soon become reality.

But another flagship proposal -- the idea of "democratic conventions" to discuss the future of the European Union in each of the member states -- has not yet generated mass public interest.

The French presidency says 400 events were organised in France, attended by 30,000 people, while the EU Commission has organised an online consultation.

Macron's proposals to make some members of the European Parliament elected from EU-wide constituencies was also put on the backburner until 2024, the next election year after European Parliament polls in May 2019.

5. Migration

New arrivals from Africa and the Middle East remain the biggest source of tension in Europe, pitting eastern member states as well as Italy's new hardline populist government against western European members. 

The creation of a beefed-up EU border force, as supported by Macron, has got bogged down due to objections from some members states, including Italy, that their sovereignty will be diluted.

The creation of a new EU asylum office, the harmonisation of asylum rules across the bloc and a mechanism to distribute refugees among member states are all highly contentious and unlikely to come to fruition soon.

 
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