Candidates in the race to replace Jean-Claude Juncker set out their thoughts on nationalism and populism in the EU during a debate in Brussels on Wednesday night.
Frans Timmermans, leader of the Party of European Socialists, warned that Europe was under threat from President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin and that the next EU chief must thwart attempts to create division.
"For the first time," a US president wants to see Europe weakened and divided, he said. "We need unity. From Farage to Salvini, we have to show that these forces are not acting in the best interests of our citizens."
He said it was the fault of Europe’s mainstream parties for losing the argument to fringe groups that had left voters “disappointed.”
"People who used to vote for my party and many parties here are now voting for nationalist parties, sometimes even extremist parties. That's our fault," he said.
"Apparently we did not convince them to stay with us. Apparently, they believed in those propositions [from nationalist parties].
"They are now being disappointed. Look at what the divisiveness of Brexit has done to the UK. Today, the UK looks like Game of Thrones on steroids."
EU 'could be dismantled'
Nico Cue, head of the European Left grouping, said there was a risk the EU "could be dismantled because we've seen austerity policies … used against southern Europe countries."
He added: "That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised to see people turning to radical alternatives. You should see what the fascists are doing now in Italy, Hungary and elsewhere.”
Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party and among the highest-profile candidates, said that “people feel Europe is not their Europe. I want to change this.” But he also proposed a mechanism to withhold funds from countries “not ready to respect our fundamental principles.”
He also said it was important for voters to turn out for the European election to defend Europe from "those who wish to fight us."
"We see that nationalism and egoism are back on this continent," he said. "We have to defend our Europe, no doubt about this."
Also on the panel were Ska Keller (European Green Party); Jan Zahradil (Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe) and Margrethe Vestager (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe).
You can watch the full debate back here: Watch again: EU top job hopefuls clash in Eurovision Presidential Debate