Paris - French President Emmanuel Macron has called for far-reaching EU reforms and warned against the dangers of nationalism, three months ahead of European Parliament elections.
Crisis of a Europe
He argued that Brexit, scheduled to take place on March 29, symbolized "the crisis of a Europe that has failed to respond to its peoples’ need for protection from the major shocks of the modern world."
"We can’t let nationalists with no solutions exploit people’s anger," he has wrote in a column published in 28 newspapers across the European Union.
"We can’t sleepwalk to a diminished Europe. We can’t remain in the routine of business as usual and wishful thinking."
The Brexit "impasse" was "a lesson for us all," he wrote, adding that "we need to escape this trap and make the forthcoming elections and our [European] project meaningful."
Calling for a "European renaissance," Macron said nationalists were "misguided when they claim to defend our identity by withdrawing from the EU, because it is European civilization that unites, frees and protects us.
"But those who would change nothing are also misguided, because they deny the fear felt by our people, the doubts that undermine our democracies."
European Council President Donald Tusk took Macron's message as a call arms ahead of the European elections.
"I am calling on all those who care about the EU, to cooperate closely during and after the European elections," he said after meeting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
"Do not allow political parties that are funded by external forces, hostile to Europe, to decide on key priorities for the EU, and the new leadership of European institutions," he said.
Tusk warned of "external anti-European forces, which are seeking – openly or secretly – to influence the democratic choices of Europeans."
The French president also received support from Germany.
"Emmanuel Macron has sent a strong signal for cohesion in Europe. I think he's right: not scepticism, but confidence should determine our actions," Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said.
Protection of Democracies
Macron proposed the creation of a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies, which would help EU nations protect their election processes from cyber-attacks and manipulation. He added that the funding of European political parties by foreign powers should be banned.
Macron urged reform of the bloc's borderless Schengen area and the creation of a common border force and asylum office.
"No community can create a sense of belonging if it does not have protected territorial limits," he wrote.
"The boundary is freedom in security. We therefore need to rethink the Schengen area: all those who want to be part of it should comply with obligations of responsibility (stringent border controls) and solidarity (a single asylum policy with common acceptance and refusal rules)."
A new treaty should set out the EU's defence obligations in association with NATO and other European allies, he said, including increased defence spending, a "truly operational mutual defence clause, and a European security council, with the UK on board."
The French president also urged Europe to spearhead the environmental cause, suggesting the setting up of a European Climate Bank and a European food safety force.
The upcoming European elections, scheduled for 23-26 May, are likely to be a battle between nationalists and reformers like Macron, who had already pushed ambitious plans for the EU in his 2017 Sorbonne speech.
The European Commission welcomed Macron's "important contribution to the European debate," as well as his "solid engagement to identify and respond to Europe's challenges," in the words of commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.
Several of the ideas put forward by Macron are already being pursued by the EU's executive, Schinas noted, referring among other things to his calls to bolster the bloc's border and coast guard and its asylum agency, as well as proposals on defence, innovation, climate change and social rights.