President Emmanuel Macron of France on Tuesday warned of an "existential risk" to the EU as he waded into the European election campaign ahead of Sunday’s knife-edge vote between his centrist party and the far-Right.
French presidents, as guardians of the Republic, are nominally supposed to remain above the fray in national elections but the unwritten rule is regularly flouted.
Mr Macron has already lent his face to campaign posters, replacing that of the lacklustre head of his party's campaign, former Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau. He also recently met candidates for his LREM party’s Renaissance list.
”I cannot be a spectator, but a participant in what is the most important European election since 1979, because the union is facing an existential risk," Mr Macron said, adding that his rivals - chief among them Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-Right National Rally - had turned the election into a “referendum” for or against his presidency.
Polls suggest Mr Macron's centrist list is running neck and neck with that of Ms Le Pen, who is seeking revenge after her heavy defeat to the 41-year-old in the French presidential run-off two years ago.
His critics say he has no business taking sides in the election while analysts warn that doing so could set him up for a fall should his party fail to come first.
Mr Macron warned that low turnout was a major threat. Polls suggest it could be as low as 40 per cent on Sunday.
"Deciding not to vote means deciding to give a voice to those who would destroy Europe," said the president.
"He's acting like the head of a clan. It's not his role today," Jordan Bardella, the head of the National Rally list for the parliament vote, said in a radio interview on Tuesday.
In the interview, Mr Macron countered: ”The French president isn't the head of a party, but it's normal that he be involved in these fundamental choices.”
Shortly before the interview’s release late Monday, the French president called for a "grand coalition of progressives" to fight "those who want to destroy Europe through nationalism”, after meeting with Portugal's Socialist premier Antonio Costa.
In the interview, he said Europeans were facing a critical choice on the future direction of Europe and on how to tackle migration and stand up as a continent to China and the US.
"I see for the first time collusion between nationalists and foreign interests whose objective is the dismantling of Europe," he added, citing Russian and American figures, some close to those in power.
The release was marred by the decision by two local papers, the Voix du Nord and Telegramme to boycott the interview. They said they took issue with the Elysée’s condition that the interview is submitted for prior approval before publication. They also said if they interviewed Mr Macron, they would have to do the same for all 33 other electoral lists.