STRASBOURG, France (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday urged the European Union to reform itself in order to offer better protection for its citizens in a world troubled by wars and authoritarian regimes.
The 40-year-old leader, who wants to play a key leadership role in the EU, outlined his vision for Europe's future in a speech at the Strasbourg-based European Parliament.
Macron said democracy is the "best chance" for the EU to fight against rising nationalism on the continent.
"Faced with authoritarianism, the answer is not democratic authoritarianism but the authority of democracy," he said.
Macron called for an energetic campaign for the European Parliament election in May 2019 as the EU also deals with the challenges of Britain's departure.
He told EU lawmakers that it's important "to have a democratic, critical debate on what Europe is about."
Macron said citizens "want a new project" for the EU which addresses their concerns and fears in a world in which allies such as the U.S. are turning their backs on multilateral trade and climate change pacts.
All EU countries, except Britain and Hungary, have agreed to seek opinions of their citizens on the EU's future through debates and online consultations by summer.
Macron will attend a debate on Europe in the eastern town of Epinal later Tuesday.
Speaking after Macron, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU isn't just a club led by France and Germany.
Juncker said Macron's arrival in power in France has "given new hope" to the world's biggest trading bloc. But he recalled that "Europe is an ensemble," even with Britain set to leave the EU next year.
Macron will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday, as France and Germany aim to agree on proposals for EU reforms by June.
During Macron's speech, some European lawmakers raised placards reading "Stop the war in Syria" and "Hands off Syria" to protest against joint airstrikes by U.S., Britain and France on chemical weapons facilities in Syria on Saturday.
Sylvie Corbet reported from Paris. Lorne Cook contributed from Brussels.