French President Emmanuel Macron has addressed the ongoing disputes between the UK and the European Union over Brexit matters, saying the two needed to “rediscover the way of trust”.
Mr Macron’s comments came in a speech today (January 19) to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, his first major remarks on the EU since France took over the six-month rotating presidency on January 1.
“Nothing will call into question the bond of friendship that binds us to the British people, our companionship in the defence of liberal democracy, freedom, economic and social progress,” Mr Macron said.
“[But this] presupposes that the British government is committed in good faith to respecting agreements concluded with our union.
“The agreements signed must be respected. That's how we stay friends,” he added.
France and the UK have been involved in recent disputes over fishing rights in the Channel.
On a wider level, the EU and the UK are still at odds over the Northern Ireland protocol, a clause in the Brexit withdrawal agreement that allows for the unchecked movement of goods between the Republic of Ireland (a member of the EU) and Northern Ireland.
What else did Macron say?
Mr Macron’s speech addressed many other factors relating to France and the European Union.
He outlined three major challenges the bloc faces this century: the environment, the digital revolution and security.
On the environment he said that "we have to move from intention to action, transform our industries, invest in the technologies of the future for a change to take place”.
He also said that he wanted the environment and the right to abortion to be included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
A controversial court ruling in Poland in 2020 imposed an almost blanket ban on abortions in the country. This law was updated in 2021 to allow for abortions in the case of rape, incest or when a pregnancy threatens a mother’s health or life.
This update came after a 30-year-old woman died of sepsis 22 weeks into her pregnancy because doctors were worried about the legality of performing an abortion to save her.
On security, Mr Macron said that he hoped Europe would build a new “security order” with Nato to stand against Russia, calling for frank and demanding dialogue with Moscow.
“The security of our continent requires a strategic rearmament of our Europe as a force of peace and balance, in particular in the dialogue with Russia,” he said.
He also reminisced on his lifelong relationship with the EU during a lengthy speech and a followup question and answer session with the parliament.
"I was born in 1977 and my youth was proof of what Europe seeks to be. I grew up in the battle-scarred lands of northern France, where Europe was seen as the embodiment of peace,” he said.
Mr Macron garnered several rounds of applause during his speech, particularly when speaking about standing up for the rule of law in the EU and taking action to combat climate change.
But he was not without detractors too.
French environmentalist Yannick Jadot, who is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and is also standing in France’s presidential election in April representing the Greens, said Mr Macron will “go down in history as the president of climate inaction”.
“Deep down you are a climato-arrangeant, you prefer to sign treaties with lobby groups than lead the war against climate change,” he said.
Meanwhile Marine Le Pen, another of Mr Macron’s rivals in the presidential race, told radio station France Inter that the president’s speciality was simply “I want, I want”.
"He wants, he wants, he wants, but what has he been doing for five years?” She said, adding his ambitions for the EU are “hollow”.
“He will get nothing because he has got nothing in reality from the European Union during the last five years,” she said.