A new, take-it-or-leave-it "United States of Europe" is the best answer to the political and economic woes facing the continent, Martin Schulz, the head of Germany's Social Democrats said on Thursday.
Schulz, chancellor Angela Merkel's last best hope for forming a stable German coalition government, proposed replacing the EU with a United States of Europe by 2025.
He told a party convention in Berlin that under his plan there would be a new treaty to create a federal Europe, with centralised control of domestic and foreign security, tax and monetary affairs, asylum and international development. Citizens across Europe would help draft the constitutional treaty.
If member states didn't agree they would "simply leave the EU" Schulz said, adding that Poland was systematically undermining European values, and Hungary was increasingly isolating itself.
The "USE" would be "no threat to its member states, but a beneficial addition", said Schulz, who was president of the European Parliament from 2012 to 2017 before his underwhelming attempt to oust Merkel in the recent German election.
But the speech was received with surprise in many quarters, and hostility from Brexiteers and Eurosceptics.
Pieter Cleppe, head of the Brussels office at the Open Europe think tank, said Schulz had made himself "the EU's worst enemy" by pushing the idea at this time.
He said it had already been rejected in referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland, and even airing it would undermine support for the EU. It would also make coalition talks with Merkel more awkward, Cleppe said.
"Let's hope he won't bring this up??? many in the [Social Democratic Party] understand that this kind of talk is toxic for the EU," he said on Twitter.
But Schulz said a more united Europe was needed to combat climate change, force internet giants such as Google and Facebook to respect civil rights, and make sure big international corporations paid their fair share of tax. It would also stop the advance of right-wing nationalists.
"If we don't change course, if we don't strengthen Europe in very practical and concrete ways, then these forces will win," he said. "Europe is our life insurance."
Schulz is known as a long-time ardent EU supporter. During the election some of his supporters used the slogan Make Europe Great Again, with the social media hashtag #MEGA in imitation of Donald Trump (though he has no time for Trump himself, calling him "dangerous to democracy").
In June 2016, Schulz co-authored a plan for EU reform which included direct voting for the European Commission president, and the Commission coming under the control of the European Parliament with a second, Senate-like chamber of the member states.
Schulz chose 2025 as 100 years since his party first put the idea of a USE in its "Heidelburg Programme".
The CDU, Merkel's party, also had a United States of Europe in its manifesto until 1992, when the idea lost favour.
In 2012, the then vice-president of the European Commissions, Viviane Reding, said a United States of Europe "best reflects the ultimate destination of the European Union".
She said the idea was "powerful, ambitious and probably controversial", and had been spoken, or dreamt of, by figures including George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte and Victor Hugo.
Winston Churchill once said "we must build a kind of United States of Europe", and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl considered a USE the next step after the EU treaty and a common currency.
Several Brexiters said the plan was exactly what they had been warning about during the Brexit referendum.
UKIP European parliament member Patrick O'Flynn responded on Twitter "altogether now: thank goodness we are leaving".
Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan said it was a "perfectly legitimate point of view which explains why Britain has to leave (Europe)".
And UKIP backer Michael Heaver said "can you even begin to imagine how badly the Remoaners would lose if they got their second (Brexit) referendum?"