France takes EU reins with push for more sovereignty

French President Emmanuel Macron, center, speaks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during an official greeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. France took over the helm of the six month presidency of the Council of the European Union on Jan. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Credit: Michel Euler

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French President Emmanuel Macron, center, speaks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during an official greeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. France took over the helm of the six month presidency of the Council of the European Union on Jan. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Credit: Michel Euler

Credit: Michel Euler

French president Emmanuel Macron and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen paid tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron pledged Friday to boost Europe's strategic power and sovereignty, as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions.

A leitmotif of the French presidency over the next six months will be the need for greater autonomy for the region. Macron has been championing the idea since he took power five years ago and will use the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, which sets the political agenda of the region, to try to put it into practice.

Speaking during a joint press conference with the head of the EU’s executive arm, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Macron said the bloc will finalize this semester the EU's so-called strategic compass, its geopolitical strategy that focuses on defense capacity building.

“It will allow us to have a common European position at NATO and to act together in a more coordinated way," Macron said, adding that he wants to develop Europe's defense industry and increase the bloc's technological autonomy.

Amid lingering tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Macron added that the EU will also build proposals for “an architecture of European security," which is still largely dependent on the U.S. and NATO.

Macron and Von der Leyen earlier paid tribute to a pair of leading European figures at France’s famed Pantheon, honoring the memories of Simone Veil and Jean Monnet.

Veil was a Holocaust survivor who repeatedly broke barriers for women in politics. She spearheaded the fight to legalize abortion in France and was the first woman president of the European Parliament. Monnet was a founding father of the European Union.

Both Macron and von der Leyen wore masks during the visit inside the domed building, amid a wave of coronavirus cases that somewhat overshadowed the beginning of the French tenure and caused trouble for the French leader ahead of the arrival in Paris of EU officials.

Macron, who is expected to seek re-election later this year, made headlines earlier this week by using rude language in reference to the country’s minority of unvaccinated people.

In an interview with a newspaper, Macron described his strategy for pressuring vaccine refusers to get coronavirus jabs by using the word “emmerder” — rooted in the French word for “crap” and meaning to rile. His vulgar language dominated news broadcasts and provoked angry reactions from his political rivals.

To move things forward on the continental stage on the vast array of touchy topics he wants to tackle, Macron will need to adopt a more consensual tone with his EU counterparts.

With the coronavirus pandemic flaring in Europe and amid diplomatic tensions at the external borders of the EU, von der Leyen said she was pleased “that a country with the political weight and experience of France assumes the presidency of the Council at such a delicate moment."

“Because the voice of France speaks loud and clear, and France has Europe at heart," she said.

Among other main themes France wants to promote are the introduction of an EU minimum wage, a carbon tax on imported products and the reform of the EU's fiscal rules. France also wants to accelerate discussions between member states to find a consensus on the stalled overhaul of the bloc's asylum system.

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French President Emmanuel Macron, right, greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the steps of the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. France took over the helm of the six month presidency of the Council of the European Union on Jan. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the steps of the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. France took over the helm of the six month presidency of the Council of the European Union on Jan. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

caption arrowCaption
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the steps of the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. France took over the helm of the six month presidency of the Council of the European Union on Jan. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

Credit: Michel Euler

caption arrowCaption
France's President Emmanuel Macron, center right, welcomes European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen before a ceremony to pay tribute to late French politician Simone Veil and diplomat Jean Monnet, at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

France's President Emmanuel Macron, center right, welcomes European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen before a ceremony to pay tribute to late French politician Simone Veil and diplomat Jean Monnet, at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

caption arrowCaption
France's President Emmanuel Macron, center right, welcomes European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen before a ceremony to pay tribute to late French politician Simone Veil and diplomat Jean Monnet, at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

Credit: Ludovic Marin

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Giant portraits of late French politician Simone Veil, right, and diplomat Jean Monne, left, are displayed outside the Pantheon before a tribute ceremony at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

Giant portraits of late French politician Simone Veil, right, and diplomat Jean Monne, left, are displayed outside the Pantheon before a tribute ceremony at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

caption arrowCaption
Giant portraits of late French politician Simone Veil, right, and diplomat Jean Monne, left, are displayed outside the Pantheon before a tribute ceremony at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

Credit: Ludovic Marin

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France's President Emmanuel, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, second from right, greet Veil's sons and Monnet's grand-son during a ceremony to pay tribute to late French politician Simone Veil and diplomat Jean Monnet at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

France's President Emmanuel, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, second from right, greet Veil's sons and Monnet's grand-son during a ceremony to pay tribute to late French politician Simone Veil and diplomat Jean Monnet at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

caption arrowCaption
France's President Emmanuel, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, second from right, greet Veil's sons and Monnet's grand-son during a ceremony to pay tribute to late French politician Simone Veil and diplomat Jean Monnet at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

Credit: Ludovic Marin

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France's President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pay their respects in the Crypt during a ceremony to pay tribute to late French politician Simone Veil and diplomat Jean Monnet, at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

France's President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pay their respects in the Crypt during a ceremony to pay tribute to late French politician Simone Veil and diplomat Jean Monnet, at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

caption arrowCaption
France's President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pay their respects in the Crypt during a ceremony to pay tribute to late French politician Simone Veil and diplomat Jean Monnet, at the French Pantheon in Paris, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. French president Emmanuel Macron paid a tribute to a pair of leading European figures Friday as France formally took the reins of the 27-nation bloc for the next six months with big ambitions. (Ludovic Marin, Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Ludovic Marin

Credit: Ludovic Marin

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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks as he participates in a media conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks as he participates in a media conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

caption arrowCaption
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks as he participates in a media conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

Credit: Michel Euler

caption arrowCaption
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen listens to questions from journalists as she participates in a media conference with French President Emmanuel Macron after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen listens to questions from journalists as she participates in a media conference with French President Emmanuel Macron after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

caption arrowCaption
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen listens to questions from journalists as she participates in a media conference with French President Emmanuel Macron after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

Credit: Michel Euler

caption arrowCaption
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a media conference after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a media conference after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

caption arrowCaption
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a media conference after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

Credit: Michel Euler

Credit: Michel Euler