President Emmanuel Macron has called for a bolstering of the EU's borders, amid a surge of migrants gathering on the frontier between Belarus and Poland in recent months.
He said on Thursday that France would push for a strong and “sovereign” EU when it took over the bloc's rotating presidency for six months, which coincides with the next French presidential election.
Mr Macron, a centrist who portrays himself as a champion of democracy against populism, said new ways to protect the EU's borders were needed.
Europe “needs to ensure the protection of its borders”, he said, and France would push to reform the Schengen area of passport-free travel between 26 countries in Europe.
“Schengen is an area that has become fragmented because of the terrorist threat, because of migration tensions and because of the health panic,” he said. “Does it have to be this way? I don't think so.”
He may aim to use the six-month EU mandate to fill the gap in European leadership left by the departure of Germany's Angela Merkel, analysts say.
But the president, who was elected in 2017 demanding reform in France and Europe, will also face a battle to be re-elected in April, although he remains the favourite.
France's aim is “to move towards a Europe that is powerful in the world, fully sovereign, free in its choices and in charge of its own destiny”, Mr Macron said in Paris.
“Faced with all these crises that are hitting Europe, many people would like to rely only on the nation state.
“These nations are our strength, our pride, but European unity is their indispensable complement. We must act like Europeans, we must think like Europeans.”
He also accused the British government of reneging on promises over Brexit-related fishing licences and of betraying the countries' friendship by signing a secret submarine deal with the US and Australia, which ended a rival French contract.
Mr Macron said the British government “doesn’t do what it says”, and the two countries “need to work together in good faith”, especially on migration.
Mr Macron, who is scheduled to meet Germany's new Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday, said the EU should reconsider its strict budget deficit rules as governments spend heavily to save their economies from the effects of Covid restrictions.
France will push for a “rethink” of rules that include a demand for deficits to remain below 3 per cent of gross domestic product, he said.
On the environment, Mr Macron said that France would propose a new EU mechanism to prevent imports of agricultural products from deforested areas.
“We will also advance negotiations on the creation of a European instrument to fight against imported deforestation, which will aim to ban imports to the EU of soy, beef, palm oil, cocoa and coffee when they have contributed to deforestation,” he said.
He said France would host an extraordinary EU summit on March 10 and 11 in Paris, a month before the presidential vote.
Mr Macron has yet to formally declare he will stand in the election although he is widely expected to do so. On Thursday, he refused to be drawn on the issue.
Recent polls have seen a sudden surge for The Republicans' Valerie Pecresse after she was formally named as the right-wing party's presidential candidate.
“Perhaps French policy will change on April 24, [the date of the second round of the presidential election] … but for sure, France will remain France,” Mr Macron said.