PARIS – President Emmanuel Macron of France said in an interview on Friday that in order to be a credible partner of the United States, Europe must also be an “autonomous partner” with its own military and technological capabilities, because “cooperation cannot be dependent” .
Speaking to a dozen foreign correspondents, Mr. Macron said he had a long phone conversation with President Joseph R. Biden Jr. last Sunday explaining his thoughts on the future of NATO.
“It is not that we want to reverse the existing alliances or partnerships,” he said. But he continued: “Working together means working together on common values and goals. The day collaboration becomes addiction, you become someone’s vassal and disappear. “
The unreliability of former President Donald J. Trump’s administration and his continued criticism of NATO and the European Union accelerated a strategic reassessment of Europe. Mr Macron was the most direct voice in the European Union, calling for investment in jointly developed European military equipment and deploring the bloc’s technological dependence, be it on China or, as he put it, “even on an ally like the United States”.
Speaking about his conversation with Mr Biden, the French President said: “I told him we are in favor of Europe’s strategic autonomy because Europe has to bear its part of the burden.” The exchange was “very pleasant and enjoyable,” said Mr. Macron and ended with a collaboration agreement.
Other European countries, including Germany, have used the word “autonomy” with caution. The French president faces an election next year, and an attitude that affirms French and European sovereignty should play a good role in the middle of the political spectrum, a potential constituency that is important to him. It also reflects deep personal beliefs that Mr. Macron has expressed since 2017.
Looking relaxed in his signature black turtleneck shirt and blue suit, watch and a small clock on the table in front of him, Mr. Macron spoke with exhaustive clarity on a range of subjects including threats to democracy, pandemic, for more than an hour and a half, Brexit and the relationship between France and its large, sometimes marginalized Muslim population.
Alternating philosophical and pragmatic, always intense, the president interspersed his arguments with broad considerations such as: “You know, you cannot control the course of history, but you can try to find your thread.”
One such thread, suggested Mr Macron, alluding to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, was the rise in violence that had become a direct threat to democracies.
Without “the ability to respect individual freedoms and create a framework for peaceful debate,” democratic societies would be on the verge of collapse, he said. However, some people in France, as in America, had come to the conclusion that “there is so much economic, social or other violence that physical violence on the street is warranted. I think this is a grave mistake that threatens democracy. “
Social media have produced a kind of “anthropological mutation” that is characterized by a “fascination for hate”. At the same time, democracies are “leveling out that destroys the principle of authority” without which they cannot function effectively.
These developments raised the pressing issue of regulating large private social media companies. “I am not in favor of delegating the right to decide about my life and our life in a democracy to private companies, as they play a prominent role,” said Macron.
Let’s turn to the pandemic that led to the imposition of a 6:00 p.m. Curfew in France and stricter border restrictions announced on Friday and growing anger among a population tired of restrictions, bans and deprivations, said Mr Macron: “It is normal for there to be effects of fatigue, impatience and moments of tension gives on vaccines. “
However, he defended Europe’s Covid-19 strategy, arguing that it was unrealistic to compare the open European continent with island states like New Zealand, which have largely wiped out the virus, or smaller countries like Israel, where vaccination rates have surpassed those of Europe .
“All of this only works if we do it together,” Macron said of the European Union’s vaccination approach, adding that it was a “rational strategy” to have the European Commission buy a range of vaccines for the whole bloc. He said the United States “completely failed” the first phase of the pandemic but is fine now because it has invested heavily in vaccines to “advance” its development.
“How do you do good science as quickly as possible? The Americans showed that very well, ”said Macron. “Much better than us.”
Macron embraced the issue of entrepreneurship – a basis for his attempt to reform France, though increasingly tempered by talk of the importance of the state – and attributed American successes to “a less risk-averse organizational model.”
Of the Europeans, he suggested: “Maybe sometimes we were a little too cautious, sometimes we were very picky”, although he stressed the importance of finding the right balance and not “giving up precautionary measures”.
Balance was an important issue during Mr Macron’s presidency as he tried to combine economic liberation with maintaining the French social model. This has led to proposals that he should try to reconcile the incompatible in a constant style of government on the one hand and on the other.
In view of the pandemic, it is inevitable that protecting people should take precedence over free market reform. He vowed never to waver in his approach to Covid-19 – and left open the question of the debt that had accumulated for a time after fighting the virus.
Brexit is a “mistake” based on “many lies”, a sovereign decision that he respects, but which would make many problems more difficult.
“I believe in continental sovereignty, I believe in nation states, and I don’t believe in neo-nationalism,” Macron said. “Well, I prefer a common ambition and find a common destiny again, and I hope Boris Johnson and his entourage will share this path.”
Speaking of tensions in France caused by Islamist terrorism, including three attacks in the second half of last year, and on his own attempts to root out its roots and achieve better integration for the country’s Muslim citizens, Macron said:
“I never said I wanted moderate Muslims. That’s not my problem. I am not asking a Catholic to be moderate. I do not care. When it comes to a person’s religion, it’s none of my business. On the other hand, I urge every citizen, regardless of religion, to respect the rules of the republic because he or she is a citizen before he or she is a believer or an unbeliever. “
Aurelien Breeden in Paris contributed to the coverage.