French President Macron said Europe will 'not be a geopolitical priority' for the U.S. and urges the continent to develop its own defense strategy

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French President Emmanuel Macron said the American security umbrella is a thing of the past and that Europe needs to build its own credible defense strategy if it wants to survive.

In a speech setting out his vision for the region six weeks ahead of European Parliament elections, Macron said the continent may need to produce its own anti-missile shield, long-range surface missiles and other equipment to be able to protect itself in a more hostile geopolitical context.

The European Union has been struggling to boost its defense industry amid worries that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war could spill over into the bloc and ahead of a possible return of Donald Trump to the White House. Earlier this year, Trump suggested the US wouldn’t come to the aid of allies if they don’t spend enough on defense.

“The US has two priorities, the US first, and that’s legitimate, and then the question of China,” the French president said at Paris’s Sorbonne University on Thursday. “Europe will not be a geopolitical priority for the years, the decades to come, however strong our alliance.”

The EU is now contending with an aggressive Russia stirring on its eastern borders, a volatile Middle East, and the expansion of the Chinese military drawing Washington’s attention. This new landscape has forced Europe to rethink its position in the world, especially as it relates to its security. 

“Europe is mortal, it can die and it depends entirely on our choices, but these choices need to be made now,” Macron said. He added that Europe must defend what’s important for itself, with allies or alone.

Russia has become emboldened by its battlefield successes and American aid to Ukraine has become less assured amid political bickering. President Joe Biden signed a national security package including $61 billion for Kyiv into law this week only after a months-long congressional impasse ended.

European allies have grown increasingly concerned about what would happen if the US scales back its support for the region, and how they could cover Ukraine’s financial and military needs.

“On a continental scale, this awakening is still too slow, too weak in the face of the broad acceleration of the rearmament of the world,” Macron said. “We now have uninhibited regional powers that are also building up their capabilities — Russia and Iran, to name but two. Europe is encircled.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Europe has been instituting measures to protect its supply lines, decouple its energy needs from Russia and find reliable sources for critical materials. The French president has been arguing that European autonomy is necessary for its survival.

“The era when Europe bought its energy and fertilizers from Russia, had production in China, and entrusted its security to the US is over,” he said. “The rules of the game have changed.”

Thursday’s event echoes a landmark speech Macron gave at the same venue months into his first term in 2017, when he called for a common European defense force, budget and doctrine. The 46-year-old, who is unable to seek a third mandate in 2027, is determined to make a lasting impact on the EU, which he has long viewed as integral to his legacy. In addition to security, he has called for greater industrial sovereignty, and sees the EU as a counterweight to the US and China.

That chimes with his efforts to line up a technocrat such as former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, who shares his vision, to lead the European Commission and succeed Ursula von der Leyen. Having been instrumental in making her president of the EU’s executive arm five years ago, he has criticized her for over-politicizing the role.

Macron reiterated his preference for buying defense equipment made in Europe, and said he favors pursuing the single market to cover telecoms, energy and financial services.

He also repeated his criticism of the EU for having too many regulations and called for massive support for companies in strategic sectors. He said the US and China are over-subsidizing critical industries and that they no longer respect trade rules from 15 years ago, and that Europeans cannot be the only ones that do.

The wide-ranging speech drew a positive reaction from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who said it contained “good ideas” on how the EU’s two biggest economies can ensure Europe will “remain strong.” The relationship between the leaders, crucial to the smooth functioning of the bloc, has been under scrutiny due to longstanding difficulties in working together.

“Together we are moving the EU forward, politically and economically,” Scholz wrote in a post on X, also expressing his wish for “a sovereign and innovative EU.” 

The speech also comes just weeks ahead of European elections in early June, with Macron’s centrist political alliance lagging far behind Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party in polls of voting intentions.

An Ifop survey for Le Figaro Magazine and Sud Radio carried out on April 16-18 showed Le Pen would trounce candidates from Macron’s group if the next presidential election were to take place on Sunday. She would also beat current Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and former premier Edouard Philippe in the runoff.

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