The French official said that the Brussels bloc had to focus on repositioning itself among world powers if it did not want to be pushed aside and forgotten.
“The European Union can no longer be limited to a simple free trade area: Europe needs a new political project, otherwise it will disappear,” Mr Le Maire said in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper published on Wednesday.
“My point is quite simple: the status quo is impossible, as it will lead to the disappearance of Europe,” he stressed.
“China came up with [a new project], one which has allowed Beijing to reaffirm its position as an empire of conquest. The United States have chosen to put ‘America First’.
Europe, for its part, has not yet made a political choice, and therefore remains vulnerable and in danger of disappearing,” Mr Le Maire continued.
He said: “For the first time since 1945, the Americans are hostile to European construction. China, for its part, is asserting itself as an economic and political empire with a clear, strategic vision. That is why we should ask ourselves: ‘What does Europe want?’”
“The bloc must strive to become a union of nations that defends its economic interests and values if it is to exist between the US and China,” Mr Le Maire insisted. “We must choose power over subservience.”
China has been described as both a partner and a competitor by European leaders, while US President Donald Trump has repeatedly tested the patience of his EU allies by embracing hardline populism and protectionist trade policies.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian echoed the finance chief’s fears on Friday, saying that the Brussels bloc had become a “playground” for external forces bent on undermining European unity.
“I am worried for Europe, because Europe is at risk of being dismembered, of being deconstructed,” Mr Le Drian told French broadcaster RTL. “Europe has become a true playground for foreign powers that want to deconstruct it.”
Widely billed as a contest between far-right populists tired of receiving orders from Brussels and pro-EU liberals seeking deeper EU integration, this week’s European parliament elections will mark a turning point for the bloc, with citizens expected to choose between “more” or “less” Europe.
Far-right, anti-EU parties are expected to increase their standing in the EU Chamber, but are not expected to take more than a fifth of seats in the May 23-26 vote.
The elections will influence not just Brussels policy for the next five years but, to some extent, the very future of the European project itself.
While many Europeans may remain indifferent to the goings on in Brussels, governments in Moscow, Washington, Beijing and elsewhere will be watching closely for signs of political weakness, or strength, in the world’s biggest economic bloc.