PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday populism was spreading across Europe like a disease that Europeans should fight more vigorously instead of criticizing the actions of pro-European governments like his.
The 40-year old leader has come under pressure at home for not accepting the Aquarius migrant ship that far-right Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini turned away from Italian ports, prompting a war of words between Paris and Rome.
On a visit to Britanny, a particularly pro-Europe region, Macron urged commentators to fight those who "hate Europe" rather than attacking him.
"You can see them rise a bit like a leprosis all across Europe, in countries where we thought that would be impossible to see them again, in neighboring countries," Macron said.
"They're saying the worst things, and we're getting used to it. They're making provocations, and nobody is horrified by that," he added.
The row between Paris and Rome over the fate of the Aquarius, a ship with more than 600 migrants aboard, including women and children, drew in Pope Francis and sewed division across Europe, straining German Chancellor Angela Merkel's fragile coalition.
"We accuse Europeans to not be exactly how we'd like them to be, and we forget to denounce those who no longer are like us, those who hate (Europe) and are advancing their plans," Macron said.
"We're getting used to the extremes in countries who for years had been pro-European like us, and on this issue our business, journalistic and political elites have an immense responsibility," he added.
(Reporting by Michel Rose and Marine Pennetier; editing by John Irish)