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French President Emmanuel Macron visits Lund University

Macron at Studentafton
Photo: Kennet Ruona

During a French state visit to Sweden, President Emmanuel Macron visited Lund University on Wednesday, where he spoke directly with students at Studentafton. The President addressed challenges, possibilities and the future of the European cooperation.

It was a long wait for vice-Chancellor Erik Renström and the audience inside the main University building. Finally, President Macron and his wife Brigitte, the Swedish King and Queen, Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström and Minister for Education Mats Persson arrived after a long day; having visited ESS and Alfa Laval, among others.

Macron entering the building
The President welcomed by vice-chancellor Erik Renström (Photo: Kennet Ruona)

After a short meeting with the vice-chancellor, President Macron was greeted by a packed auditorium where students waited to hear Macron be interviewed by Sylvia Schwaag Serger, former deputy vice-chancellor at Lund University, and professor of Economic History. The President also answered questions from the audience.

Sylvia Schwaag Serger raised issues relating to democracy and the EU's future during a challenging time. President Macron agreed that there could be big changes to come, with EU elections and several national elections; notably the upcoming presidential election in the United States.

"There are areas where we are vulnerable. One of them is the risk of elections being manipulated and the increasing threat of disinformation, for instance via social media", Macron said.

The rule of law was under pressure

He singled out Russia as a major player in creating instability, not only through the war against Ukraine but also through cyber warfare. In addition, he raised global concerns with the increasing questioning of the rule of law.

"Some see the rule of law as a weakness for politicians who want to implement their policies. But it is fundamental to a functioning democracy that everyone receives the same protection under the law, and that governments are prevented from arbitrarily using their power. There is an increasing number of so-called illegal democracies where this principle is disregarded", Macron commented.

Sylvia Schwaag Serger asked whether the EU's democratic model can compete with other ideological systems, especially when it comes to innovation and technological development. President Macron stated that he believes the EU can - and will be able to do so going forward. Admittedly, there is a challenge in that the EU consists of 27 countries, while competitors such as the US and China – despite their differences – are individual countries.

"We have to invest significantly more. We have successful universities, startups and companies so we are well equipped, but we need to synchronize and invest more money, and it needs to happen faster. We must find our own way and not become dependent on the US and China. This reduces us simply to a large market of consumers", warned Macron.

The EU plays an important role

The questions from students focused on the war in Ukraine and the future of relations with Russia. President Macron emphasized that Russia has taken on a great responsibility for the future through its war against Ukraine. He said that the EU plays a very important role, because it must not end with Russia defeating Ukraine.

"We have already done a lot by providing Ukraine with weapons and money, together with the United States. However, we must increase support, because we cannot risk Russia winning. We need our own strong defense industry that can supply both us and the Ukraine with weapons. It is also a good thing that Ukraine has been allowed to start membership negotiations with the EU", Macron said.

Anne L'Huillier dream guest

As tradition calls for, President Macron was asked who a dream guest would be for the next evening with Studentafton. His response was swift:

"Anne L-Huillier. She is a perfect symbol for the Swedish-French cooperation, and with a bright mind that means so much to the research community. I would gladly attend and listen", the President concluded.

Before the President left Studentafton, the attendees rose in unison, and the whole auditorium resoundingly sang "Les Champs-Élysées". The French president - who had previously proclaimed  that he was not a great singer - joined in.