PARIS — After the German elections stoked uncertainty across the continent, French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a long-awaited clarion call for a "refounded" European Union.
Elected in May on lofty promises of a reinvigorated E.U., Macron took to the stage on Tuesday to deliver the substance of his proposals. But following the German results, the urgent subtext of his address was clear: the 39-year-old president wasted no time in arguing that "sovereign, united and democratic" Europe was the key to fighting — and defeating — an ascendant far right across the continent.
"We have allowed the idea to settle that Europe is an impotent bureaucracy," Macron said, speaking at the Sorbonne, one of France's and Europe's grandest universities. "We have not proposed more. I will leave nothing to those who promise division and national withdrawal."
Macron's speech came after the reelection of his principal continental ally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to a fourth term, albeit with certain caveats. In the eyes of many, Merkel's victory was overshadowed by the astonishing ascent of a far-right populist fringe party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Shattering a postwar taboo, that anti-immigrant, anti-Islam faction will enter the German parliament, having won 12.6 percent of the vote.
But the far right has made even greater strides in France. Macron won election earlier this year only after facing Marine Le Pen and the far-right National Front, a sharply anti-immigrant faction that seeks the removal of France from the E.U., a construct the nation once helped design. In the final round of the French election, Le Pen won 34 percent of the vote, the party's largest-ever share since it was co-founded by Le Pen's father, a convicted Holocaust denier, in 1972.
From the beginning, Europe has been a primary focus for Macron, who entered his victory rally in May not to the sound of his own national anthem but to that of the E.U.'s anthem, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." That sentiment continued Tuesday, when the bilingual Macron said that, by 2024, he hoped that each student spoke "at least two European languages."
Since his election — widely seen as an affirmation of an embattled European project — Macron has traveled across the euro zone and met with 22 of the bloc's 27 sitting heads of state. Tuesday's speech, over an hour long, bore the fruits of these exchanges, outlining in the greatest detail to date Macron's vision for "key projects" in five specific areas: security and defense, migration, big data, trade, and the economy.
Collective action on Europe's common problems was the thrust of his prescriptions.
On security, notably, Macron urged the creation of a European terrorism prosecutor, who would serve as a central investigator in cases that often span national borders and have recently involved multiple intelligence services that do not always share information efficiently. He urged the same on the migration front, advocating an "European office of asylum to harmonize the procedures."
"To make a place for refugees is our common duty as Europeans," he said, "but we must do so without leaving the burden to a few, whether they are the country of arrival or of welcome." In recent months, Macron has spearheaded an effort to use "hot spots" in Libya that would process asylum claims on the other side of the Mediterranean and probably curb the flow of arrivals into Europe.
But perhaps the centerpiece of Macron's vision for a more integrated, "multispeed" Europe is a separate euro zone budget and a joint finance minister, additions that, in his view, would cut through much of the bloc's bureaucratic red tape by creating a common fiscal policy. On Tuesday, he advocated a "project of fiscal and social convergence."
Many of these initiatives depend on a strong Franco-German axis, long considered a given before Sunday's vote.
Before the German election, Merkel indicated that she would be open to some of these ideas and seemed willing to open German coffers to participate if Macron could demonstrate that he could successfully bring the French economy in line with E.U. safeguards. At great cost to his own popularity, the French president has forged ahead with a slew of deeply unpopular labor market reforms, in part to prove to his counterparts across the Rhine that he means business.
But the results in Berlin on Sunday cast significant doubt on Macron's ambitions. Many expect Merkel's slightly weakened position to limit her ability to lead on the European stage, given the uncertainty she now faces at home.
Foreign policy analysts expressed reservations over the grandiosity of Macron's proposals but said the German vote had not rendered them impossible.
"The plan of Emmanuel Macron presupposed a very strong, confident Germany," said Dominique Moïsi, a French foreign policy expert who advised the Macron campaign during the election. "This is not exactly the case today, but nevertheless, one should not look at this as the triumph of populism in Europe."
"The Franco-German couple will survive. It's not the dream we had, but it's not the nightmare we had envisaged, either."