(CN) – Faced with “nationalist leprosy," French President Emmanuel Macron is warning that Europe risks returning to the dangerous period between the two world wars that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler.
Macron made his comments in an interview published late Wednesday by Ouest-France, a regional newspaper in western France, in the run-up to ceremonies marking the centenary of the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.
In the interview, the 40-year-old French president renewed his calls for a stronger European Union and called on Europeans to resist the “nationalist leprosy.”
He said he was struck by the resemblance between the Europe of today and how it looked in the inter-war period. Like then, he characterized Europe as “divided by fears” and withdrawing into nationalism.
He called on Europeans to “be lucid, know how to resist” with “democratic and republican vigor.”
Macron has set himself up as Europe's chief bulwark against a tide of populism that has swept across Europe and brought a growing number of far-right political parties into power.
But it's also been a difficult period for Macron with cabinet departures and plummeting popularity. He's been damaged by backlash to his wide-ranging reform efforts, including of France's complex labor laws, and several gaffes that have made him appear arrogant and unconcerned about average people's problems.
His latest comments were made shortly before he took a few days off from his famously frenetic schedule. European media speculated that he was stressed and needed to recuperate his energy.
He will return to public life on Sunday with a series of ceremonies marking the centenary of the end of World War I.
The events will be capped on Nov. 11 when dozens of world leaders are expected to convene at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are among those scheduled to attend.
Cello star Yo-Yo Ma is expected to perform at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe during the solemn occasion to remember those killed in World War I.
In the interview, Macron said: "Europe is facing a risk: To be dismembered by nationalist leprosy and to be jostled by outside powers.”
He said Europe is in danger of losing its sovereignty because it depends on the United States for its security while Europe is faced with challenges from China, Russia and global financial markets.
Macron has called on Europe to become more integrated and more militarily independent. But his pro-European aspirations have not mustered a lot of support in a fractured Europe. Political analysts think his goals may be further hampered by a weakened Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and Macron ally. Merkel's party has suffered recent electoral defeats and she announced Monday that she will not seek re-election.
Macron was elected in a landslide victory over far-right leader Marine Le Pen in May 2017 after building up his own political movement – La Republique En Marche – around pan-European ideals and promises to re-invigorate the French economy.
A next big test for Macron will be the European Parliament elections in May. He is seeking to build a new centrist alliance that can push his proposals for the European Union.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
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