Ahead of the EU elections, French President Emmanuel Macron outlined his vision for the future of the European Union as the 28-member bloc has been dealing with a series of crises.
His opinion piece published by several top European newspapers, is his furthest-reaching attempt to shore up the EU, where nationalist and populist candidates have seen gains, including in neighboring Italy and most recently in the Estonia general election on Sunday.
In Hungary, whose President Viktor Orban has been a frequent target of Macron, it was published online only in the independent business weekly HVG. And in Poland, where the right-wing government is calling for greater autonomy from Brussels' decisions, Macron's column was published by the respected nationwide Rzeczpospolita daily. The headline was on the front page but the full text was published on page 12, as an opinion column, without any comments.
"Never since the Second World War has Europe been so necessary. And yet never has Europe been in such danger," Macron said, in what many see as the start of his own campaign for the May European Parliament elections. The president listed a series of initiatives the EU could take both to defend itself and to adhere more closely to its core values.
Brexit, he said, was the symbol of Europe's crisis in not being able to provide for the people's need for protection in the face of today's threats.
Macron, who has made no secret of his plans to form a centrist, pro-Europe alliance to stave off populist and nationalist movements which have been gaining ground across the continent, also suggested reforming the 26-member Schengen area which allows free movement between members. All those who want to belong to Schengen should accept both stricter controls on outer borders and a common asylum policy for migrants, he said.
A number of eastern European EU members, included those run by right-wing governments in Poland and Hungary, have rejected previous calls to take in a share of the migrants arriving from the Middle East and Africa. Macron suggested Europe should also share a common border force, along with a joint office for dealing with asylum demands.
Macron himself defeated an anti-EU candidate to become modern France's youngest leader, but his popularity at home has dipped since taking office. The 41-year-old Macron upset France's traditional political system by winning the 2017 presidential election, beating off Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front. Since then he has sought to liberalize the French economy, but this has sparked grassroots opposition with three-months of mass demonstrations by the "yellow vest" protesters.