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France's Macron warns Europe against 'authoritarianism'

© AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron made his first speech before the European Parliament

STRASBOURG (FRANCE) (AFP) - 

French President Emmanuel Macron warned Europe on Tuesday against the temptations of "authoritarianism" both around the world and inside the European Union itself.

In his first speech to the European Parliament, Macron warned that there was a "sort of European civil war", adding that "there is a fascination with the illiberal and it's growing all the time."

"I don't want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers, I don't want to belong to a generation that's forgotten its own past," the 40-year-old president said in a speech outlining his vision for the future of the EU.

"I want to belong to a generation that will defend European sovereignty because we fought to obtain it. And I will not give in to any kind of fixation on authoritarianism," he added.

The young French president's call to arms comes after populist parties won elections in Hungary and Italy in recent weeks, and as Brussels confronts Poland's right-wing government over the rule of law.

Macron's election last year, defeating the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, and his ardent pro-Europeanism have made him the poster boy for a revived post-Brexit EU whose proponents aim to battle the challenges of populism.

But he has struggled to win support for all his proposals, and his speech to MEPs is part of a charm offensive ahead of European Parliament elections in May 2019, the first after Britain's departure.

Later this week Macron will travel to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to try to boost flagging support for his plans for the future of the eurozone.

Macron also proposed on Tuesday to create a European fund for communities that take in refugees in a bid to tackle one of the most politically toxic issues facing the EU.

"I propose creating a European programme that directly financially supports local communities that welcome and integrate refugees," Macron said.

Macron's speech was welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who said: "The true France is back."

© 2018 AFP