Macron: ‘We are not fast enough in investing in the future’

16 Feb 2020 | News

French president warns member states squabbling over size of next long-term EU budget to look at spending on key technologies in China and US

Emmanuel Macron. Photo: European Commission

Emmanuel Macron has urged EU member states to put more money into the collective Brussels pot so Europe can invest in key technologies of the future.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, the French president said he is “not frustrated but impatient” for the EU to take on bigger projects. “We are becoming a continent that doesn’t believe in its future,” Macron said.

The president urged the other big EU heavyweight country, Germany, to join with France in upping its ambitions for the bloc. “I would like to be faster in agreeing with Germany over [more initiatives]. The key is to be able to take more risks together; if we don’t take risks we won’t succeed,” he said.

Macron, who picks his moments to pitch for European technological sovereignty, called for EU countries to up their game on cloud computing, artificial intelligence, 5G wireless networks and tackling climate change.

EU governments should put aside squabbles over the size of the EU’s next long-term budget for 2021-2027. “We’re talking about small differences here – it’s not worth fighting over,” he said.

Leaders will meet in Brussels on February 20 for a special summit to try to agree the budget. The negotiations are more difficult than usual because the departure of the UK, one of the top net contributors to the budget, leaves a net annual hole of around €9 billion.

Some of the EU’s main budget contributors including Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, appear reluctant to pay more to cover the shortfall, while the member states who gain most from the Brussels budget argue that EU support should continue to prioritise farmers and addressing regional disparities in economic development, over spending more on research.

Laying out his vision for the future, Macron warned Europe risks trailing China and the US in key tech areas. “China invests enormous amounts of money. It’s not always clear or transparent, but they invest in digital and climate, in magnitudes we’ve never seen before. [Alongside the US], they’re setting the course for the future,” he said.

The president noted some recent Brussels-led initiatives he has supported, including the European universities initiative, a joint research programme on batteries, and the new EU defence research fund. Macron was also one of the main leaders in Europe pushing for the formation of the European Innovation Council, to back breakthrough innovations in science.

Macron said it isn’t all about more public money; Europe has to develop deeper capital pools to keep up with the tech leaders. “Although interest rates are low, people are saving more – [there can be] no capital circulating without more integrated capital markets,” he said. “We have the problem of too little investment; we are not fast enough in investing in the future.”  

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up