Paris (CNSNews.com) – French President Emmanuel Macron has raised eyebrows – and not a little criticism at home – with comments about the need for a “European army” to help the European Union face potential threats, including those that would arise as a result of U.S. policy shifts.
Speaking in a radio interview, Macron said Europe should not depend only on the United States for its defense, at a time when President Trump is withdrawing from various international treaties, including a key Cold War-era disarmament agreement.
“This will put Europe in danger in the absence of a European army” he added.
“We will not protect the Europeans if we do not decide to have a real European army – in the face of Russia, which is on our borders and has shown that it can be threatening,” Macron said. “We must have a Europe that defends itself more, alone.”
The comments came just days before Macron is scheduled to host Trump for Sunday’s commemoration of the centenary of the end of World War I.
Retired French General Jean-Paul Paloméros, a former senior NATO commander, told French television on Tuesday that Macron’s proposal was a good one, and could see the E.U. with an autonomous intervention force within three years.
But member-states would have to decide whether or not they want to be part of a European army, he said.
“It will be a Europe of those [countries] who want to give themselves a new sovereignty,” Paloméros said.
But defense expert Philippe Migault told a news outlet here that Macron’s idea was absurd, adding that “it comes from a head of state who knows nothing about military affairs.”
Migault said that apart from France, no country in the E.U. today dreams of a powerful Europe.
“NATO remains irreplaceable, both for Europeans and – let’s not play the hypocrite – for the French authorities, both civilian and military,” he added.
The center-right Les Républicains party expressed skepticism.
Party president Laurent Wauquiez said the idea was a fantasy. Rather, he said, France and Germany should together make their military forces available to help protect Europe.
Macron in the interview compared the present time in Europe to that of the 1930s, when nationalism was on the rise across the continent.
“I am not exaggerating and I am lucid, we are in a Europe fractured by the rise of nationalism,” he said.
Media commentators suggested Macron’s proposal amounted to the launch of his campaign ahead of next May’s European Parliament elections – and a bid to enhance his leadership in Europe, especially at a time when German Chancellor Angela Merkel is losing ground at home.
The latest French opinion polls are giving the lead, for the first time, to Marine Le Pen’s National Rally.
Le Pen is highly critical of the E.U. institutions and bureaucracy. In an interview responding to Macron’s remarks, she said it was the E.U. that “crushes the people of Europe under its boots.”
Le Pen also argued that the origins of World War I lay not in nations but in empires. She argued that Macron was in fact trying to defend a new “empire” – the European Union.
“The president continues to surf on fears of a new war, which is quite hypothetical,” Le Pen said, accusing Macron of insulting his European counterparts.
She stressed that her priority was to defend France’s borders first – echoing positions expressed by her right-wing allies in other E.U. countries.