France and Germany have reiterated calls for Europe to reduce its military and financial dependence on the US.

The EU needed “strategic autonomy” on defence in times when the US had “turned its back” on its old ally, French president Emmanuel Macron said in Paris on Monday (27 August)

  • Maas (l): EU needed to “form a counterweight when the US crosses the line” (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

It also needed financial “autonomy” to avoid US pressure on European companies, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said the same day.

“We need strategic autonomy and defence to respond to new threats … Europe can no longer place its security in the United States’ hands alone,” Macron told French diplomats in a wide-ranging speech.

“The partner with whom Europe built the post-war multilateral order seems to be turning its back on this shared history,” he added in a lament on the decline in transatlantic relations under US president Donald Trump.

Trump had put Nato trust in doubt, started a trade war with the EU, and torn up international accords, such as the Iran nuclear arms control deal and the Paris climate agreement, Macron said.

He said the EU had “never advanced so fast” in defence integration as in the past year, with the creation of joint military projects and budget lines.

His call to go further would see Europe play a greater role in conflicts in the Middle East, north Africa, and further afield in Africa, the French leader indicated, mentioning Libya, Syria, and the Sahel as priorities.

But an autonomous EU would also play a greater role on the geopolitical stage in what amounted to a “rebalancing of the world order,” Macron said.

“I really don’t believe that China or the United States of America think today that Europe is a power with a strategic autonomy comparable to theirs. I don’t believe that,” he said.

The EU would need to build new relations with Russia and Turkey, Macron added.

“Substantial efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis … will of course be prerequisites for real progress with Moscow,” he warned, alluding to EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also turning into “a pan-Islamic project regularly presented as anti-European, whose regular measures are rather against our principles,” he added.

But “we need to build a strategic partnership …. with Russia and Turkey, because they are two important powers for our collective security, because they must be tied to Europe,” the French leader said.

German echo

Macron’s vision of a changing world order was echoed by the German foreign minister in Handelsblatt, a German newspaper, also on Monday.

Trump might “unintentionally become the force behind the birth of a new western order,” Heiko Maas said.

But the forces shaping events were greater than one man alone, he added.

“The fact that the Atlantic has widened politically is by no means solely due to Donald Trump. The US and Europe have been drifting apart for years. The overlapping of values and interests that shaped our relationship for two generations is decreasing,” the German minister said.

“Now it is important to build a European security and defence union step by step, as part of transatlantic security and as a separate European project,” he said.

A “sovereign, strong Europe” could “form a counterweight when the US crosses the line” in order to defend “rule of law” in the international arena, Mass said.

He zeroed in on US threats to fine EU firms which do business in Iran after Trump tore up a deal to freeze its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.

The EU needed to show “that we will not allow you to go over our heads, and at our expense. That is why it was right to protect European companies legally from sanctions,” Maas said.

“It is therefore essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels independent of the US, a European monetary fund and an independent Swift system,” the German minister said, referring to the Belgium-based global firm Swift, which handles international bank transfers.

“With Germany, we are determined to work on an independent European or Franco-German financing tool which would allow us to avoid being the collateral victims of US extra-territorial sanctions,” French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said in France the same day.

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EU fascinations

Macron told the French ambassadors the “contemporary American position”, as well as Brexit, and the rise of populism in the EU arose from a “discomfort with contemporary globalisation”.

He repeated his call, first issued at a speech in the Sorbonne university in Paris last year, for a more “complete, ambitious [and] … united Europe” in reaction to the trends.

He warned the UK that any Brexit deal “can’t come at the expense of the European Union’s integrity”.

He voiced concern that some EU countries, such as Hungary and Italy, had developed “fascinations” with “illiberal democracy” and “xenophobic rhetoric”.

But he also issued a veiled warning on potential EU budget pressure if populist leaders did not mend their ways.

“Viktor Orban’s Hungary has never been against Europe’s structural funds or the common agricultural policy, but she is against Europe when it comes to holding great speeches about Christianity,” Macron said, referring to Hungary’s right-wing prime minister and to EU subsidies to poor and rural regions.

“Italy is against Europe which does not show solidarity on migration, but it is for Europe’s structural funds,” Macron said.

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