Members of France’s ruling centrist party are calling for a “better” Europe that “protects” ahead of next year’s already controversial European Parliament election.
Tarring Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and France’s Marine Le Pen with the same brush, he said: “What are these arsonists playing at? Weakening the European Union is weakening all of the countries in Europe.”
Speaking at a party meeting in Paris, Mr Castaner, who runs the centrist party formed by president Emmanuel Macron, added that the three “demagogues” were “the enemies of Europe and the enemies of the people of Europe”.
“Unlike them, I am not ashamed of Europe,” he told the crowd.
“We need to wake up, because peace is not a given,” the Macron ally continued, as he called for Europe to defend the interests of its member states.
“We must refound Europe in order to relaunch the European project, which is being threatened by the emergence of nationalism.”
“It is because we love Europe that we want to change it… We must roll up our sleeves. Europe is a fight we all need to be mobilised for,” he said.
Echoing his comments, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told party members that “the debate should not be about whether we want more or less Europe, but about whether we want to build a better Europe.”
“The task ahead remains difficult,” he said.
European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau, for her part, called for “a Europe that protects”.
The European project is being “threatened from outside,” in particular by US president Donald Trump’s aggressive diplomacy, Mrs Loiseau warned, but also “from inside” by Europe’s nationalists “who are attacking the fundamental values of Europe”.
Hardline eurosceptics are “opponents” who “need to be confronted,” she said, in a thinly veiled reference to Mr Orban and Mr Salvini, who last month branded Mr Macron their number one “enemy”.
“The challenges facing Europe will not be solved by retreating behind our borders,” she added, referring to the new political alliance formed by Mr Orban and Mr Salvini to “fight pro-migrant policies supported by Mr Macron” ahead of May vote.
But Macronists’ strategy for the European election is already taking shape, with France’s centrists describing it in stark terms: an open battle between anti-immigrant nationalists on the one hand and pro-EU progressives on the other.
Europe has seen a surge in support for far-right parties in recent national and regional elections, following a crisis that saw millions of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa end up in Europe, a trend europhiles fear could swing the vote in favour of conservatives.