Paris - French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday set out a broad vision for "refounding" the European Union, and called on Germany to join him in a "new partnership" to start implementing it.
sovereign, united, democratic
Speaking two days after German parliamentary elections weakened his ally Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron told students and dignitaries in the historic Sorbonne university that Europe could no longer be built "away from the people."
It needed to be "sovereign, united, democratic," Macron said, sketching out a vision for new European defence and security measures as well as a beefed-up eurozone governance and tax harmonization.
On economic issues, where Germany has been reluctant to cede further sovereignty, Macron argued for a stronger eurozone budget funded by a dedicated tax.
To fund investment and protect against economic shocks, "we need a stronger budget at the heart of Europe, at the heart of the eurozone. The income of this budget must reflect this ambition," Macron argued.
Agreement on the budget of the euro area
"We must think about dedicating, at least in part, a tax for this budget," he added.
Merkel has said she is not opposed in principle to a eurozone budget, but has spoken of a "smaller sum" than Macron hopes for.
One European analyst said he was doubtful there would be Franco-German agreement on a large eurozone budget.
"I think there is a big scepticism in Germany that this would be useful in the first place, and I don't see how the speech would overcome the scepticism," Guntram Wolff, director of the Bruegel think tank, told dpa.
The French president slammed corporate tax competition between EU member states as well as company strategies to minimize their tax burden across borders, demanding action to tackle both.
The next EU budget, due to be adopted in 2020, should set out mandatory minimum and maximum corporate tax rates, he said.
That was an area where Germany and France were likely to agree, Wolff said. The two countries, and possibly others, might be able to work on joint tax-gathering - and a unified corporate tax could also help small businesses by simplifying procedures.
Macron suggested that France and Germany could work together immediately to start putting some of his proposals into action, including an agency for disruptive innovation, or innovation that creates new markets.
"So I propose to Germany a new partnership ... On all the subjects I have mentioned, we can make a decisive and concrete Franco-German start."
The two countries could seek to "completely integrate [their] markets" by 2024, with the same commercial law and bankruptcy law, he proposed.
In the meantime, a "group for the refoundation of Europe" involving all interested member states as well as European institutions could start work within weeks with an aim of coming up with proposals by mid-2018.
In parallel, democratic conventions would discuss the future of the bloc over the next six months.
But Wolff said German politicians were unlikely to agree to that proposal.
"I just cannot imagine that there will be a serious democratic convention-based debate in Germany on the future of Europe," Wolff said.
"The speech reads as the speech of someone who is coming from a country that is deeply unhappy with the way the European Union works, and that is not the case in Germany," Wolff argued.
Macron also held out an olive branch to Britain, which is planning to leave the bloc by 2019, saying it could rejoin a reformed Europe which would inevitably be a multi-speed bloc.
"In this union re-centred around intransigent values and an efficient market, in a few years the United Kingdom will be able, if it so wishes, to find its place," he said.
Europe needs courage
The speech was generally welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who had expressed reservations about previous proposals by Macron for a eurozone budget and parliamentary assembly.
"A very European speech from my friend @EmmanuelMacron," Juncker wrote on Twitter. "Europe needs courage."
With German politics focussed on coalition-building after Sunday's inconclusive election results, there was little immediate reaction from Berlin.
In Paris, the opposition was critical. Macron's support for a multi-speed Europe was justified, but there was "no future" for his proposals for a joint military force, Laurent Wauquiez of the right-wing Les Republicains party said on LCI television.
Radical leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon accused Macron of wanting "a Europe of aggressive defence ... dedicated to the single market where France abandons its industry, schools and political independent."