President Emmanuel Macron has taken warnings of the increasing danger of right-wing nationalism and stated in an interview with a French regional newspaper that complacency made possible the rise of Hitler and Mussolini.
In conversation with Le Courrier Picard, a newspaper in northern France where Macron visited the monuments of the First World War, the president was challenged for comparisons he made between current events and the 1930s in Europe.
The newspaper asked if he was not exaggerating by comparing the right-wing nationalists today with the German National Socialists or the fascists of Italy.
"Times are different," Macron admitted. "But who won the last European elections in France, the National Front, to which everyone seems to have gotten used to, who finished second in the last regional elections in northern France, the National Front, who made it to the second round – the presidential elections "The National Front," he said.
The National Front has since been renamed National Rally by its leader Marine Le Pen, who lost to Macron in the May 2017 presidential election. The Le Pen party is now leading the En Marche of Macron in the elections to the European Parliament elections in May.
Macron warned that if someone claims that right-wing extremist nationalists are less threatened nowadays than in the past, they run the risk of becoming too complacent.
"I would suggest that you read again what was said at the time," said the 40-year-old president.
"Well educated, well-informed people said we could get along with the nationalists, and as I recall, nobody, not even the richest and the most educated, blocked Hitler's rise in one country and Mussolini in another.
"I want to draw everyone's attention to this point, is it the case that nationalist sentiments are on the rise?" Yes, are the people pushing for a return to conflict not the ones who are gaining ground in some European countries? "
Macron, who has introduced a series of economic reforms since taking office, but his popularity dropped to a new low of 21 percent last week, has made the European Parliament elections a showdown between pro-European "progressives" like him and EU skeptics made populists on the right.
These forces are arguably the strongest in France and Italy, where Matteo Salvini's vice-premier league side got support while their leader contacts Brussels.
Macron said the world sees a revival of authoritarianism with the threat of weapons proliferation.
"We have to face this (nationalisms and extremes) and tackle the root causes of existing inequalities," he said. "I'm trying to do that."