Europe is locked in a political “civil war”, French President Emmanuel Macron has warned in a major speech to the European Parliament.
Addressing MEPs in Strasbourg, he cited Brexit as an example of the “context of division” which exists across the continent.
He also refused to discuss the details of a post-Brexit trade deal, saying he still believes membership of the EU would deliver the greatest benefits to the UK.
Kicking off a three-hour long debate, Mr Macron said: “We have a context of division and, indeed, doubt within Europe. Brexit continues. It’s still being discussed and worked on.
“Here I would pay tribute to the work being performed by [EU chief Brexit negotiator] Michel Barnier.
“But there is a doubt in a number of European countries. Month after month we are seeing views and sensibilities emerge which call into question certain fundamentals.
“There seems to be a sort of European civil war. National selfishness and egotism seems to take precedence over what brings us together.
“There is a fascination with the illiberal and that’s growing all the time. There are geopolitical threats too. So, Europe has an ever-greater responsibility.”
Mr Macron said the “liberal democracy” model of the European Union was the best answer to the world’s current challenges and called on politicians not to give up on it.
“We’re seeing authoritarianism all around us and the response is not authoritarian democracy but the authority of democracy,” he said in a comment interpreted as a criticism of the right-wing populist governments in Hungary and Poland.
The French president launched into a passionate defence of the European Union, saying its values marked it out from “authoritarian powers” around the world.
Taking aim at US President Donald Trump, he added: “It also marks us out from some of our closest allies. Our American ally. We share so much with that country but this country is rejecting multilateralism, free trade and climate change [measures].”
Although Mr Macron said national politicians had to stop blaming the EU for problems, he said European leaders should “listen to the anger” from citizens and forge a “new project” that had their confidence.
Specifically, he called for funding to help local government integrate refugees and backed proposals for a Europe-wide tax on digital firms.
The speech received a glowing reception from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who said it showed “the real France is back.”
But Syed Kamall, the leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, told Mr Macron that he was out of touch with the views of voters who want less Europe, not more.
Mr Kamall said: “Mr President, what you propose is revolutionary but should come with an honest disclaimer in large letters, bold and underlined, that Member States will become less and less sovereign as the EU becomes more and more powerful.”
The French President hit back at pro-Brexit MEPs later when answering questions about the future trading relationship between the EU and UK.
He said: “I have a direct reply to France’s position with respect to the UK and the post-Brexit situation.
“I’m in favour of the most integrated relations. The closest relations. There is a solution. We’re very familiar with and that’s EU membership.”
After his three-hour long debate with MEPs, the French President was due to have lunch with the heads of the political groups in the European Parliament – including Nigel Farage.
“I plan to ruin his lunch,” Mr Farage told the Telegraph yesterday.
But Mr Farage appears to have been partially won over at the lunch by the charismatic Mr Macron.
In a statement about their meeting, the UKIP MEP said: “He was very polite and very civil and I have a totally different political philosophy to him and the point that was mused on around the lunch table was the fact that we were both there together, people found quite amusing.
“But I would say having met him and listened to him today he’s probably the European Union’s last chance. “