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France’s Macron warns ‘Europe could die’ as he calls for stronger defences

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President Emmanuel Macron appealed on Thursday for stronger, more integrated European defences and said the continent must not become a vassal of the United States, as he outlined his vision for a more assertive European Union on the global stage.

With just three years left of his second and final term in office, and having lost his parliamentary majority in 2022, Macron, 46, wants to show his critics that he retains the energy and fresh thinking that helped propel him into the presidency in 2017 and that he has not become a lame duck leader.

“There is a risk our Europe could die. We are not equipped to face the risks,” Macron said in his speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris, warning that military, economic, trade and other pressures could weaken and fragment the 27-nation EU.

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Macron said Russia must not be allowed to win in Ukraine, and he called for a boost in Europe’s cybersecurity capacity, closer defence ties with post-Brexit Britain, and the creation of a European academy to train high-ranking military personnel.

“There is no defence without a defence industry … we’ve had decades of underinvestment,” he said, adding that Europeans should give preference to buying European military equipment.

“We must produce more, we must produce faster, and we must produce as Europeans,” he said.

Macron said Europe risked falling behind economically in a context where global free-trade rules were being challenged by major competitors, and he called for a reduction in red tape on small and medium-sized businesses.

The French leader hopes his speech will have the same impact as a similar address at the Sorbonne he made seven years ago that prefigured some significant EU policy shifts.

Since then, much has changed, with major geopolitical challenges including the war in Gaza, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and growing US-China tensions.

Thursday’s speech was billed by Macron’s advisers as France’s contribution to the EU’s strategic agenda for the next five years. The agenda is due to be decided after the European elections, when EU leaders will haggle over the bloc’s top jobs.

Macron has seen his personal popularity tumble, while his centrist Renaissance party is trailing the far-right Rassemblement National in polls ahead of the June 6 to 9 European Parliament elections.

Another challenge for Macron is that in the European Parliament, his group, Renew, is now the third-biggest but could fall to fourth place, polls show, which would further limit his influence.

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