French President Emmanuel Macron will give an all-important speech today. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER MATTHYS

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Macron aims to cement French influence in EU, lift party fortunes with landmark speech


French President Emmanuel Macron will outline his vision for Europe as a global power on Thursday in a speech he hopes will have the same impact as a similar address he made seven years ago that prefigured some significant EU policy shifts.

With just three years left of his second and final term in office, 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 has not become a lame-duck leader.

Macron lost his parliamentary majority in 2022 and has seen his personal popularity tumble, while his centrist Renaissance party is trailing the hard-right Rassemblement National (RN) in polls ahead of the June 6-9 European Parliament elections.

Macron’s aides have revealed little about the content of the speech, which as in 2017 will be delivered at Paris’ Sorbonne University, other than to say he wants to plot a roadmap for Europe as a more assertive power against a more challenging global backdrop that includes wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

“The EU has never felt more French – we all talk about sovereignty, industry, trade defence, even security,” Georgina Wright, of the Paris-based Institut Montaigne think-tank told Reuters.

“But the world has also become more competitive and hostile. Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done,” she said.

The speech is 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.

In his 2017 Sorbonne speech, Macron stressed concepts such as “European sovereignty” and “strategic autonomy” that have since become buzzwords in Brussels. The doctrine gave French statist ideas more sway just as Britain was leaving the EU.

Since then, Macron has convinced member states to agree to the issuance of joint debt – long a taboo for Germany – during the COVID pandemic, and old French proposals such as a carbon tax on non-EU countries have become enshrined in European law.

He has been less successful in persuading other countries to rely less on the United States and American weapons for their own defence. Some EU officials believe there is currently no credible alternative to the U.S. military umbrella, and suspect Macron of pushing French industrial interests.

Macron’s advisers deny that he is making a thinly veiled election campaign speech, though it will likely be seen as an attempt to energise his base ahead of the elections as his party falls further behind Marine Le Pen’s RN in the polls.

A 15-point gap has opened between Le Pen’s lead candidate, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, and Macron’s pick, Valerie Hayer, a relatively unknown member of the European Parliament (MEP).

The Socialists’ lead candidate, MEP Raphael Glucksmann, is also surging in the polls, snapping at Hayer’s heels. Finishing third would be embarrassing for Macron, whose loss of his parliamentary majority at home has made governing harder.