The European Union risks being torn apart by a “civil war” between its liberal and authoritarian democracies, Emmanuel Macron, the president of France has warned.
Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Macron said that the EU must “build a new European sovereignty” and embark on much needed reforms to save the bloc.
The ardent Europhile was given a standing ovation and numerous compliments by adoring MEPs during the plenary debate on the future of Europe after Brexit.
“We have a context of division and indeed doubt within Europe,” Mr Macron said. “There seems to be a sort of European civil war where selfish interests sometimes appear more important than what unites Europe.”
In a thinly-veiled swipe at Hungary and Poland, Mr Macron said Europe was in the grips of “a fascination with the illiberal”.
Brussels is at loggerheads with Warsaw over Poland’s controversial judicial reforms and there are also concerns about the rule of law in Hungary after strongman Viktor Orban’s election campaign, which was won by stoking fears over immigration.
Members of the European Parliament hold placards saying "Stop the War in Syria" before a debate on the Future of Europe
“We are seeing authoritiarinism all around us,” Mr Macron said, “The response is not authoritarian democracy but the authority of democracy.”
“In these difficult times, European democracy is our best chance,” he added before warning against the “deadly tendency” of national selfishishness and egotism that could lead the continent “to the abyss”.
Evoking the Second Word War, Mr Macron said he belonged to a generation that had never experienced war and that he “suffered the luxury of forgetting what happened to our ancestors”.
“I don’t want to be part of a generation of sleepwalkers. A generation that has forgotten its past,” he declared as the plenary chamber broke into applause.”
“I will not give in to any kind of fixation on authoritarianism,” said Mr Macron, “I want to belong to a generation that will defend European sovereignty because we fought to attain it.”
“European sovereignty is the system I believe in,” Mr Macron said. “Defending Europe is not defending something abstract or the dilution of our own sovereignty.”
Mr Macron, under pressure domestically as he tries to force through unpopular labour reforms, even took a swipe Donald Trump, the US president and at his ally in the strikes on Syria.
“We share so much with country but this country has rejected multilateralism, free trade and climate change,” he said before exhorting MEPs to “listen to the anger of the people of Europe” who felt abandoned by the bloc.
Florian Philippot, a French MEP in Nigel Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, attacked Mr Macron, branding him the EU’s “top pupil” repeating all “the canons of the European catechism”.
Mr Philippot, a former member of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, praised Britain “for breaking free of its chains” and to hoots and catcalls called for a Frexit referendum that would allow France to go out into the world.
Mr Macron gave him short shrift and said the French people had spoken when they elected him last year.
“You lost because the French people decided otherwise,” Mr Macron told the MEP.
The French president called for a European fund for communities taking in migrants and insisted that Brexit must not derail EU spending suggesting a tax could be levied to raise money for the EU Budget. He also demanded that eurozone banking integration picked up pace and other reforms.
Mr Macron's speech will be seen as a direct response to growing authoritarianism in countries like Hungary
Mr Macron, who praised Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, for his handling of the talks was greeted with unabashed admiration by Europhiles in Strasbourg. Outside the parliament a demonstration was held against the French president.
“The true France is back,” declared Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission.
“This house has waited a long time for a French president like you,” Manfred Weber, the German MEP who leads the largest party in the European Parliament, told Mr Macron.
But hard left MEPs accused Mr Macron of breaking international law by launching missile strikes on Syria.
On Brexit, Mr Macron said he was in favour of the “most integrated relations, the closest relations” with the UK.
“There is a solution that we are very familiar with and that is EU membership,” he told MEPs.
“I am very fond of our friendship with the UK but there is no cherry-picking in the single market,” he added after praising Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator.
“I believe in Europe so therefore I believe in what we have done,” he said referring to the EU's insistence that Britain’s Brexit red lines would limit the UK-EU relationship to a trade deal rather than full access to the single market.
“We have to be consistent,” he said in Strasbourg as Syed Kamall, the most senior Tory MEP shook his head. “That is what democracy is about.”