Paris / Bloomberg
French President Francois Hollande hosted a dozen EU social democrat leaders who called for a relaunch of the European project to stop the growth of the far-right.
Those attending the informal gathering included Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who, representing the radical leftist Syriza party, was granted â€œobserverâ€ status.
Hollande warned that Europe was threatened with â€œobliterationâ€, not just â€œdisappearanceâ€ or â€œdislocationâ€, if it failed to address the â€œeconomic and social emergencyâ€ engulfing the bloc.
He called for investment to â€œdo moreâ€ to help, arguing that funds should be earmarked to settle refugees, boost education and develop green
Hollande was accompanied by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Secretary of State for Europe Harlem Desir as the group discussed how to kickstart economic growth against a backdrop of rising populism.
On the eve of regional elections in Germany that could prove to be a breakthrough for the countryâ€™s anti-immigrant right, Gabriel warned against â€œpanicâ€ and called for Chancellor Angela Merkelâ€™s policy of welcoming refugees to be upheld.
â€œWe will see tomorrow that an overwhelming majority of voters will cast their ballots for democratic parties,â€ he said.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also attended along with economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici and European Parliament head Martin Schulz, who urged the EU to find a way of fairly distributing the huge influx of migrants.
â€œIf there are no solutions among the 28, we shall have to find a solution among those who want to participate,â€ Schulz told French broadcaster I-Tele.
Schulz also took aim at Franceâ€™s far-right National Front, which he said preferred to seek out â€œscapegoatsâ€ rather than offer solutions or â€œconcrete proposalsâ€ to social problems.
â€œThe National Front is a party which identifies scapegoats â€” immigrants, the government, Eastern Europe, Europeans, Germans, whoever.
â€œWhen you ask for solutions to, for example, job outsourcing or unfair competition then thereâ€™s silence, nothing. Where are this partyâ€™s concrete proposals?â€
Despite not winning control of any regions during last yearâ€™s nationwide elections in France, the party, headed by Marine Le Pen, scored a record number of votes.
â€˜Build a wallâ€™
Greeceâ€™s Tsipras, meanwhile, went further than any of his colleagues, calling for progressive parties to unite to fight against austerity â€œand to build a wall against economic policies that help the far-rightâ€.
A source close to Hollande said Saturdayâ€™s discussions also covered Britainâ€™s potential exit from the EU and the need to prevent this from â€œmorphing into a general debateâ€.
â€œEurope has spent much time on current issues â€” Greece, migrants, refugees â€” but itâ€™s time to put other issues back on the agenda,â€ the source said, saying the group wanted to define a â€œgrowth agendaâ€.
Hollande oversaw a similar gathering in 2014 and Saturdayâ€™s meeting comes just ahead of an EU summit on March 17 and 18 in Brussels.