Macron slams 'defeatist' attitudes used towards EU
The French President opened the Conference on the Future of Europe in Strasbourg on Sunday, using his speech to characterise Europe as an unfinished project, but one which was superior to its largest allies – although he carefully avoided singling any out by name.
The enthusiastic leader announced that young French people will have the unprecedented opportunity to propose new challenges and changes to the European project.
He said: "In France, we are launching today a large online consultation which will allow at least 50,000 young people to assert their priorities, their criticisms, their ideas, their dreams for Europe."
But the speech prompted a huge backlash, with eurosceptics ready to warn Mr Macron of an imminent protest against more integration within the bloc.
Generation Frexit leader Charles-Henri Gallois said: "There was a large consultation of 29 million people at the polls on May 29, 2005.
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"The French had said NO to 55 percent.
"The big gathering on May 29, 2021, will remind you of this!"
Mr Gallois referred to the French referendum on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe that was held on May 29, 2005.
French people voted on whether France should ratify the proposed Constitution of the European Union.
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The result was a victory for the 'No' campaign, with 55 percent of the voters rejecting the treaty.
Speaking in Strasbourg, the French President said: “The criticism, the challenging, the fights, quarrels disagreements is what defines us, and it’s also what makes us more effective. It allows us to express criticism democratically.”
Dismissing criticism of the bloc’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, especially related to its sluggish vaccine rollout, he added: "I say on the contrary, it is the European model that has proven itself in this crisis.”
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Europe had 'resisted the pandemic together' as a result of its 71 years of shared history, Mr Macron insisted
Europe had “resisted the pandemic together” as a result of its 71 years of shared history, Mr Macron insisted.
He also found time to highlight the virtues of the French city in which the conference was being hosted.
Mr Macron explained: “Here we are gathered in Strasbourg on May 9, which tells us a great deal about who we are, how we are going to work to shape ourselves.
“Strasbourg is the city of reconciliation after all, it is the living symbol of this Europe that said no to war, to build peace, to replace occupation with cooperation, to lift the worries of looking towards the borders, to breathe new confidence and friendship into European souls, that’s what Strasbourg is all about.”
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, also present at the opening of the Conference, urged all participants to keep an open mind.
She said: “We must ensure it is not an intellectual policy exercise or a closed political compromise.
“We should be honest that the conference is not a panacea or a solution to every problem.
“And we must listen to all voices - whether critical or complimentary - and ensure that we properly follow up on whatever is agreed.”