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Macron calls for 'European sovereignty' in first EU parliament speech

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses the European Parliament on Tuesday Foto: Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron called for more Europe and defended liberal democracy in a speech at the European parliament on Tuesday that challenged the rise of nationalist authoritarianism on the continent. In a bid to defuse the row over migrant quotas, he proposed funding communties that take in refugees.

Speaking at the parliament building in the French city of Strasbourg, Macron called for a new "European sovereignty" in the face of increasing authoritarianism in some EU countries, in his first speech to the European Parliament.

Outlining his vision of a reformed post-Brexit EU, Macron warned that there was a "sort of European civil war", adding that "there is a fascination with the illiberal and it's growing all the time."

Macron himself faced down far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in last year's French presidential election;

And there has been a rise of xenophobia and nationalism in most other European countries, which has seen Hungary reelecting Viktor Orban's right-wing government this month and the far right make big gains in Germany's election last year.

"I belong to a generation that has not experienced war and which is allowing itself the luxury of forgetting what their predecessors lived through," he said. "I want to belong to a generation that wants to firmly defend democracy. This word is full of meaning because it is the fruit of past battles."

With calls for national sovereignty leading to rejection of the EU, as in the UK's Brexit referendum, Macron declared that "European sovereignty is the condition for future generations deciding their future."

Migration fund

The French president tackled the thorny subject of migration, with a proposal for a European fund for communities that take in refugees.

Several countries, notably Poland and Hungary, have refused to accept their share of EU quotas, introduced during the 2015 migrant crisis to relieve pressure on Greece and Italy.

He also called for European taxation as the basis of a European budget and a carbon tax on imports.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed Macron's speech with the words, "The real France is back."

"You can count on the commission to support you in your approach and your aspirations," he said.

Manfred Weber, the head of the mainstream right bloc in the European parliament, the European People's Party, told him, "I'm glad France has a leader like you" but added "If we ignore the people, the people will ignore us."

Belgian Green Philippe Lamberts was less positive, accusing Macron of betraying the motto "Liberty, equality, fraternity" by selling arms to authoritarian regimes, investing in nuclear power and clearing migrants' and protest camps.