French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Europeans to resist rising authoritarianism and renew their commitment to democracy.
“I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers that has forgotten its own past,” he told the European Parliament, in a passionate speech.
“I want to belong to a generation that chose to defend its democracy.”
In Strasbourg he is launching a series of debates with voters, aimed at re-engaging them with the European Union.
He warned that “there seems to be a European civil war, where nationalism and egotism takes precedence over what brings us together”. He condemned what he called “a fascination with the illiberal”.
Last year Mr Macron and his new liberal party, La République en Marche (LREM), triumphed in French elections with a strongly pro-EU platform.
His second-round rival in the presidential election was National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen, a nationalist and fierce critic of the EU.
What challenges does the EU face?
Mr Macron’s set-piece speech in Strasbourg set out his vision for democratic renewal in the EU, at a time of growing nationalism in the 28-nation bloc.
This month Hungary’s right-wing leader Viktor Orban, another arch-critic of EU policies, won a new two-thirds majority in parliament.
There is much nervousness in the EU about Russian influence on European voters, with many examples of fake news spreading in social media – often blamed on supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
MEPs applauded Mr Macron when he said democracy “is a word with meaning, which emerged from the battles of the past”.
He faces a big challenge ahead of the 2019 European elections as his LREM party does not belong to any of the main groups in the European Parliament.
France’s Macron urges defence of democracy in EU