Guy Verhofstadt, one of the highest-profile candidates for the EU’s top job, denied he wants to create a European superstate but said a federal system of decision-making was the solution to the bloc's problems.
"I don't want a superstate, I'm against a superstate where everything is decided by Brussels," he said in an interview with Euronews Raw Politics.
But he said there was nothing wrong with the idea of a United States of Europe. "I want a system where, if there is added value, let's do it on European level," he said.
"In the USA there are "50 different constitutions, 50 different flags ... even there are differences in the death penalty," he said. "A United States of Europe is a way to organize common action on a European level."
EU border force
The former Belgian prime minister said he is "not at ease" with the direction of the EU and predicted the bloc "as it works today — or as it doesn't work today — will not even survive the 21st century." But he said its problems could not be solved by individual governments.
"I am perhaps the first eurosceptic and even more eurosceptic than nationalists and populists when it concerns the working of the European Union but I believe the solutions for these problems is not by going back into history and hiding behind the borders of the nation-state but to develop a vision for a new Europe in the new era of empires in which we live," he said.
"That's the reality, the world is changing, the world is dominated by Chinese, Indians, Russians and Americans. So we need a new European concept."
He wants to replace the European Commission with a "smaller government" and create a new EU border force and coast guard to ease the migrant crisis.
"This is a crisis is mainly a crisis because of a lack of European policies, so nationalists and populists are pointing the finger to Europe but it is not Europe that is the source of this crisis," Verhofstadt said. "It is because of a lack of European policies. There is no European border and coastguard. There is no European asylum system because the existing Dublin system is mainly the opposite of a European system."
The EU is in need of reform, he said, but "people are not against the European project."
"People are against the way we translate this European project into the European Union of today. That's their problem. They are saying we are failing in translating this European co-operation into real action. For example on migration and European defence."
The former Belgian prime minister is the latest of the prospective EU presidents to appear on Euronews; Jan Zahradil from the Conservatives will appear on Tuesday (May 14) at 21h CEST.
Verhofstadt, a law graduate and former Ghent city councillor, is a polarizing figure in Britain where he has been campaigning alongside the resurgent Liberal Democrats, the only major political party totally opposed to Brexit. However, one pro-Brexit tabloid newspaper called him a "curtain-haired slimeball".
He predicted the Liberal Democrats would have "a great result" when British voters go to the polls on May 23. "It will be a battle between the Liberal Democrats on the one hand and the Brexit Party on the other."
Verhofstadt also made a surprising choice for a Belgian when asked whether he preferred wine or beer. "Wine," he said. "Wine in Europe is civilisation."