French President Emmanuel Macron began a state visit to the Netherlands on Tuesday by calling for greater “European sovereignty” as he battled a furore over his controversial remarks on Europe and China.
In the eagerly awaited speech, Macron said that both the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine have made it clear that Europe needs to reduce its dependencies to maintain its identity.
“Pandemic and war just pushed us in a situation to discover that we have to reduce our dependencies if you want to preserve the European identity,” Macron said in his address in The Hague.
“It means that we must be able to choose our partners and shape our own destiny, rather than being, I would say, a mere witness of the dramatic evolution of this world.”
Macron’s remarks during his two-day state visit to the Netherlands come amid sharp criticism of earlier comments about Europe’s relationship with mainland China, Taiwan and the United States.
Macron said last week that Europe should avoid involvement the conflict between China and Taiwan and that the bloc should instead become a third pole between mainland China and the United States, Taiwan’s most important ally.
“The worst thing would be to think that we Europeans must be followers and adapt ourselves to the American rhythm and a Chinese overreaction,” the president said after his three-day state visit to Beijing.
Beijing insists that Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy, is part of its territory – to be re-integrated by force if necessary – although Taiwan has had an independent government since 1949.
Tensions are rising in the Taiwan Strait following a meeting by Taiwan’s president with a US lawmaker in California, as Beijing seeks to isolate Taiwan internationally.
In his speech on Tuesday, Macron also endorsed a stronger, more robust European industrial policy aimed at boosting European production and reducing trade dependencies on other parts of the world.
“The US has an [industrial policy] and is strengthening it, China has one,” Macron said. “We need a European one.”
The French president pointed out that the EU had largely freed itself from its energy dependency on Russia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and argued Europe should continue down that path.
“We need to build a new strategy that will increasingly reduce our dependencies and build more sovereignty in energy,” Macron said.
Macron and his wife, Brigitte, arrived in the Netherlands earlier on Tuesday for the first official state visit by a French president to the Netherlands in 23 years.
The couple was greeted by the Dutch King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Maxima, in Amsterdam. It is the first state visit by a French president to the Netherlands in 23 years.
A 42-gun salute by French and Dutch naval vessels also greeted the French president’s arrival in Amsterdam. Macron’s itinerary for Tuesday included laying a wreath at the National Memorial to War Victims in Amsterdam.
Macron planned to meet representatives of the Dutch parliament in The Hague on Tuesday and is expected to attend a gala dinner at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam in the evening.
For the second day of his visit, Dutch-French government consultations are planned.