EU divisions becoming like `civil war`, warns French President Emmanuel Macron

French President warned on Tuesday that divisions between democracy and authoritarianism in Europe were becoming like a "civil war".

EU divisions becoming like `civil war`, warns French President Emmanuel Macron
Pic courtesy: Reuters (File image)

Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Tuesday that divisions between democracy and authoritarianism in Europe were becoming like a "civil war".

Macron used an impassioned speech to the European Parliament, meeting in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, to urge the rest of the union not to become a "generation of sleepwalkers" lured by the siren song of nationalism.

The young French leader`s call to arms was a thinly veiled reference to states like Hungary, where populist PM Viktor Orban recently swept back to power, and the right-wing government of Poland which has repeatedly clashed with Brussels.

"There seems to be a sort of European civil war, where our differences and sometimes our national egotisms can seem more important than presenting a united face to the world," the 40-year-old president said.

"There is a fascination with the illiberal and it`s growing all the time."Macron has become the pro-European poster-boy after his election victory over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen last year stemmed a tide of populism that culminated in Britain`s shock 2016 vote to leave the bloc.

But in a speech setting out his vision for sweeping EU reforms, Macron said he was concerned by the growing sense of "doubt" and divisions between eastern and western states.

"I don`t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers, I don`t want to belong to a generation that`s forgotten its own past," he told MEPs in the eastern French city.

"I want to belong to a generation that will defend European sovereignty because we fought to obtain it. And I will not give in to any kind of fixation on authoritarianism."Macron added that in the face of governments accused of cracking down on civil rights "our response is not authoritarian democracy, but the authority of democracy."

His speech comes just days after the anti-immigration, eurosceptic Orban won a crushing re-election victory in Hungary. Orban regularly clashes with Brussels but is a "hero" for US President Donald Trump`s former strategist Steve Bannon.

Warsaw has meanwhile been locked in conflict with the EU over its controversial court reforms, while Italy has also raised concerns in other capitals after anti-establishment and anti-immigration parties surged in elections in March. 

Macron`s words were welcomed by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who told parliament afterwards: "The true France is back."

Juncker`s deputy Frans Timmermans said it was a "call to arms to all of us who believe in European values."

The French president meanwhile launched into a spirited defence of his decision to launch air strikes alongside Britain and the United States against alleged regime chemical weapons sites in Syria.

"Three countries have intervened, and let me be quite frank, quite honest -- this is for the honour of the international community," said Macron, who earlier this week said he had persuaded Donald Trump to keep US troops in Syria.

"These strikes don`t necessarily resolve anything but I think they were important," he said.But in terms of his European reforms, Macron has struggled to win support across Europe for all his proposals. 

His speech to MEPs is part of a charm offensive ahead of European Parliament elections in May 2019, the first after Britain`s scheduled departure from the EU.

Later this week Macron will travel to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to try to boost flagging support for his plans for the future of the eurozone.

Macron said that France was ready to increase its contribution to the EU`s first post-Brexit multi-year budget, which begins in 2020.

But Merkel`s conservative CDU party pushed back on Monday against plans for deeper eurozone integration, including a separate eurozone budget and the expansion of the EU`s bailout fund.

Macron separately proposed on Tuesday to create a European fund for communities that take in refugees in a bid to tackle one of the most politically toxic issues facing the EU.

EU leaders are set to adopt preliminary Macron-backed plans for eurozone reforms and for an overhaul of its troubled asylum system in June, but there is still a lot of work to do.

Fighting to push through reforms at home in the face of mass rail strikes, Macron also faced difficulties in the European Parliament, where his domestic En Marche party is not affiliated to any political group.