French President Emmanuel Macron this week stirred up a robust and healthy debate with his letter published in newspapers of all 28 EU nations, calling for a "European renaissance." First, however, he will have to reverse a European unraveling, both political and economic.
Markets are bracing for the U.K.'s parliamentary vote on Brexit's fate next week, the European Central Bank this week sharply downgraded growth projections to a job-killing 1.1 percent and reintroduced stimulus, and Italy is moving to officially tie its wagon to China's Belt and Road Initiative — choosing market access over European cohesion.
This all comes as a new era of major power competition unfolds, the results of which will decide whether Europe is a global player or the football. Will Europe shape outcomes or instead be shaped by more determined and coherent actors? As China grows more politically and commercially assertive, as Russia turns more aggressive and disruptive, as the United States displays less predictability and commitment, "we can't sleepwalk to a diminished Europe," Macron writes.
The letter is getting traction both due to its timing, coming shortly before the European Parliament's most decisive elections yet in May, and due to its novel approach. What Macron has done is borrow the language and immigration issues of the populist nationalists — a winning approach in past months — and deploy it on behalf of the European Union.
He takes a swipe at the nationalists who are leading astray the "citizens of Europe," even as he joins them in their criticism of the unnamed European Union politicians and Eurocrats who have done far too little to address their legitimate concerns.
"Nationalists are misguided when they claim to defend our identity by withdrawing from the EU," he writes, "because it is European civilization that unites, frees, and protects us. But those who would change nothing are also misguided, because they deny the fear felt by our people, the doubts that undermine our democracies. We are at a pivotal moment for our continent, a moment when together we need to politically and culturally reinvent the shape of our civilization in a changing world. Now is the time for a European renaissance."