There was more than a hint of confidence in the words of President Macron when he received the Charlemagne Prize ‘in recognition of his vision of a new Europe’.
His acceptance speech made him sound every inch like an international statesman who wants to lead the European Union during hugely turbulent times. With Britain on the verge of leaving the bloc, and far-Right nationalism making gains in countries such as Italy and Hungary, Mr Macron used the ceremony in Aachen to outline his long-term goals.
He praised the EU for maintaining a “miraculous” period of peace, and called for continuing unity to solve problems at home and abroad. What he did not do, however, was push himself as the politician to take personal command, instead projecting the historic Paris-Berlin axis as the key.
“Certain people say Germany is selfish and does not want to reform Europe, I say this is false,” Mr Macron insisted.
Restating his objective for a “much more ambitious European budget” Mr Macron spoke of “a more integrated Eurozone”. He also stressed Europe was at a “historic moment” in time as it stood up to the policies of President Trump, especially over the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Climate Change Accord.
Just as significant was an interview Mr Macron gave to German broadcasters in which he stated: “Europe is in charge of guaranteeing the multicultural order that we created at the end of World War II, which today is sometimes being shaken.”
This fits in with the historical progression of the European project when, after a disastrous series of conflicts, Germany and France decided to bury the hatchet once and for all in 1945. Their determination to stop fighting manifested itself in President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signing the Elysée Treaty in 1963, so as to promote friendship between ‘hereditary enemies’.
Britain has, of course, had a massive influence on the development of the bloc too.
It was the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself who sent Lord Cockfield to Brussels to produce a coherent programme for the completion of the Single European Market, which allowed freedom of movement of capital, goods, services and people.
Thatcher was more commonly viewed as a Eurosceptic, however, so never won the Charlemagne Prize, which is named after the Emperor Charlemagne and has been awarded every year since 1950 ‘for work done in the service of European unification’. But successors including Labour PM Tony Blair did, as did Winston Churchill before all of them.
Now Mr Macron is being likened to an early-years Blair – an election winner intent on widespread reform. “With Emmanuel Macron, a dynamic young politician has entered the European stage, for whom European integration and the common currency are a clear course,” is how one close EU colleague put it.
That she was Angela Merkel says everything.
In fact, it was the German Chancellor who presented Mr Macron with his gong in Germany. The pair have pledged to agree a roadmap for the future of the EU by the time of a summit this month.
Yes there are differences – the Germans do not share France’s enthusiasm for an EU banking union, for example – but there is enough agreement in the general message. Which is that the revived Franco-German alliance will be at the forefront of all new initiatives aimed at determining the future powers and structures of the EU, with near neighbours including the exiting UK reduced to bystanders.
Nabila Ramdani is an award-winning French-Algerian journalist who specialises in French politics and the Arab world. Her articles feature in the French national press as well as internationally. She is a regular columnist in The Connexion