The former president of the European Parliament, now vying to be Germany’s next chancellor, has said populism is a “virus” that “could lead to the end of the European Union” (EU).
Martin Schultz said there was now a “real risk” the 60-year-old supranational organisation could falter in the face of nationalist attacks.
“The problem is that member states play that game: ‘There is that union, we have nothing to do with it, that union is playing against us’. That blame game is a virus which could lead to the end of the European Union,” he said.
The blunt admission of the threat comes days after Guy Verhofstadt, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, admitted the bloc faces an “existential crisis” and could “disappear” due to the rise of populism and nationalism.
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) February 9, 2017
Mr. Schultz was appearing in a BBC documentary called After Brexit: The Battle for Europe which examines why Euroscepticism is rising and a populist party is doing well in the polls in almost every European country apart from Cyprus.
“I tried to keep it [the EU] together,” Mr. Schultz said of his time as president of the EU Parliament, before attacking individual populists across the continent.
“There are people like [Hungarian President] Mr. [Viktor] Orbán, who argues against the European Union. If that is to continue, the risk that we fall apart is a real risk, yes.”
He said it was “unthinkable” that Marine Le Pen and her National Front party could win the French presidential election, adding: “She will never win, I’m absolutely sure.”
Also appearing in the film, Ms. Le Pen said: “I believe that this year is the year of patriotism. It is the year of the great comeback of the nation and the people. I am absolutely convinced of this.”
She said “patriots” were pitted against the “globalists” of the EU, which should “either radically and deeply change and abandon its authoritarian character, or it will die”.
Ms. Le Pen also praised Brexit for paving the way for Eurosceptics. “Brexit made the choice for border control, for re-industrialisation, for economic patriotism, for a kind of intelligent protectionism,” she said.
“The United States has made the same choice with Donald Trump’s election.”
The documentary also featured Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s most popular political party, the anti-EU Five Star Movement (M5S).
“This movement of Mr. Grillo has for everything a scapegoat and for nothing a solution”, claimed Mr. Schultz. He went on to call Mr. Grillo “loud, funny [and] from time to time ugly” and “nasty with his words”.
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) February 8, 2017