In a rare public exchange with French President François Hollande, far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused him of selling out to a Europe controlled by Berlin over the migrant crisis.
Le Pen, whose party is staunchly anti-Europe and anti-immigration, was responding to a joint call Wednesday at the European parliament from Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made an impassioned plea for European leaders to pull together to cope with the influx of migrants that is raising tensions and dangerously straining the union.
Le Pen accused Hollande of acting like Berlin’s “vice chancellor” who merely administrates the “province of France” for Germany.
Le Pen’s National Front party has the largest number of seats in the European parliament of any French party.
Merkel spoke of the migrant crisis as posing a «test of historic dimensions» for the EU while Hollande warned of the «end of Europe» if it is not dealt with through European unity.
For Le Pen, being given the floor after Hollande’s speech was too good an opportunity to miss.
The National Front leader called Merkel «totally irresponsible» for offering to take in more Syrian refugees and said that, «German interests don’t justify turning the other people of Europe into vassals.»
Hollande responded that the EU was a bastion against the «return of nationalism, populism [and] extremism».
«If [you] don’t want a stronger Europe … the only possible path is simply to leave Europe,» Hollande said, to a standing ovation.
Merkel and Hollande’s joint appearance in Strasbourg Wednesday is the first such bilateral appearance since 1989, when West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President François Mitterrand spoke days after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The European Union was conceived to end centuries of war through open trade and increased prosperity and it has also been a way for Europe to stay globally relevant.
Germany and France have played a leading role in keeping the 28-nation bloc united despite major differences of views among European leaders.
Just since 2014 the EU has faced the Ukrainian conflict at its eastern border, Greece’s resurgent debt crisis, terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, threats that Britain might leave the EU and the biggest wave of migrant arrivals since World War II.
Elections for European parliamentarians last year produced a rise of populist and far-right parties, including members of neo-Nazi movements in Germany and Greece. With the migrant crisis they are again making their voices heard, along with nations like Hungary that want the flow of people stopped.
Hollande also pressed for a strengthened eurozone, a stronger border control system among the border-free Schengen countries and a common asylum system for refugees within the EU.