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 “observer” status.
Hollande warned that Europe was threatened with “obliteration”, not just “disappearance” or “dislocation”, if it failed to address the “economic and social emergency” engulfing the bloc.
He called for investment to “do more” 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 country’s anti-immigrant right, Gabriel warned against “panic” and called for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of welcoming refugees to be upheld.
“We will see tomorrow that an overwhelming majority of voters will cast their ballots for democratic parties,” 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.
“If there are no solutions among the 28, we shall have to find a solution among those who want to participate,” Schulz told French broadcaster I-Tele.
Schulz also took aim at France’s far-right National Front, which he said preferred to seek out “scapegoats” rather than offer solutions or “concrete proposals” to social problems.
“The National Front is a party which identifies scapegoats — immigrants, the government, Eastern Europe, Europeans, Germans, whoever.
“When you ask for solutions to, for example, job outsourcing or unfair competition then there’s silence, nothing. Where are this party’s concrete proposals?”
Despite not winning control of any regions during last year’s nationwide elections in France, the party, headed by Marine Le Pen, scored a record number of votes.
‘Build a wall’
Greece’s Tsipras, meanwhile, went further than any of his colleagues, calling for progressive parties to unite to fight against austerity “and to build a wall against economic policies that help the far-right”.
A source close to Hollande said Saturday’s discussions also covered Britain’s potential exit from the EU and the need to prevent this from “morphing into a general debate”.
“Europe has spent much time on current issues — Greece, migrants, refugees — but it’s time to put other issues back on the agenda,” the source said, saying the group wanted to define a “growth agenda”.
Hollande oversaw a similar gathering in 2014 and Saturday’s meeting comes just ahead of an EU summit on March 17 and 18 in Brussels.