EU ON THE BRINK: Verhofstadt warns ‘EU WON‘T SURVIVE‘ unless it ditches stagnant politics

Mr Verhofstadt, the leader of liberals inside the European Parliament, insisted Brexit is acting as a clear warning that the people want to see the Brussels project overhauled. During an interview with a group of European newspapers, the former Belgian prime minister vowed to create a “new centrist, reformist and pro-European force” to keep out populists, like firebrand Italian leader Matteo Salvini, from the EU’s leadership. Mr Verhofstadt blamed Brexit on a distinct shift to euroscepticism across the bloc ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.

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When challenged on the changing discourse, he said: “Because of Brexit. After Brexit it has become clear that public opinion wants to change Europe, but not destroy it.”

He added: “Like any pro-European politician, I am worried about the rise of populism and nationalism in Europe. But I do not think it‘s something inevitable. Quite the opposite. I think it is possible to fight them and defeat them, as we have seen in several countries. But that requires a new vision and a certain passion for this new Europe that I defend.

“We must counteract those forces because now they have a new speech. Now they say they do not want to destroy Europe, they just want to change it from within. But the changes that they want suppose the destruction of the EU because they want to return to the dominance of the nation states and not the European cooperation.”

But Mr Verhofstadt urged his European counterparts not to write off winning over populists because the people “who vote for them are afraid and troubled” and reassurances from pro-EU candidates.

Guy Verhofstadt warns EU will not survive unless Brussels changes its politics (Image: GETTY)

He said: “They are from the middle class and they feel victims of globalisation or they fear the impact of migration in their neighbourhoods.

“And those problems must be addressed by offering alternatives. But populists have no solutions, they just try to spread fear to get more votes. Salvini, deep down, expects more migrants to arrive because that would give him more votes.

“In the May elections we will try to build a new centrist, reformist and pro-European force, which will be the alternative to fight against populism and nationalism. But at the same time it will be the alternative to the status quo of the last 40 years.

“If we do not break it and generate passion for a new Europe, which is not technocratic, bureaucratic, based on regulations and directives, if we do not manage to build that new force in the centre, within five years, in the elections of 2024, populists will rise in a massive way and create the nightmare that we now fear.”

The Belgian MEP’s pitch echoes Emmanuel Macron’s recent pitch for a European renaissance ahead of the European elections.

The French president called for a radical overhaul of the EU to prevent the current Brussels project from stagnating.

Written in 24 languages, Mr Macron’s letter took a desperate stab at Brexiteers and said the EU referendum should act as a lesson for EU leaders.

He wrote: “Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the European market? Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland?”