M Wauquiez, the head of France’s opposition Les Républicains party, said in an interview with France Inter radio: “I do not believe in this fantasy of a federal European Army, because an army is something that requires a concentration of decision-making powers.”

The bloc has already tried “and failed” to create its own army in the aftermath of the Second World War, he said. 

“We will find ourselves with three bits of plane in Belgium, four bits of plane in Latvia and an inefficient army,” M Wauquiez continued, adding that he did not believe in a “European sovereignty that would trample on the sovereignty of nations”. 

France’s 40-year-old leader on Monday called for the creation of a “real European army” to defend the Brussels bloc against Russia, China and even America. 

Faced with “a Russia which is at our borders and has shown it can be a threat,” M Macron pleaded: “We need a Europe which defends itself better alone, without just depending on the United States, in a more sovereign manner.”

M Wauquiez, for his part, argued that Europe’s two engines – France and Germany – should launch a joint military force dedicated to “protecting Europe”. 

Brussels should “contribute financially to France’s military budget and to Germany’s military budget” so that the two armies can jointly “ensure Europe’s defence”. 

M Wauquiez also accused his centrist rival of manipulating public opinion ahead of next May’s European Parliament elections, whose outcome could radically change the bloc’s political landscape. 

M Macron, who has asked Europeans to not “sleepwalk” into authoritarianism, has framed the EU elections as a ruthless battle between anti-immigrant nationalists and europhile progressives, such as himself.

M Wauquiez has slammed those stereotypes as cynical adding: “He’s developing a strategy that is woefully cynical, and which consists in telling voters: ‘It’s me or chaos; me or the far right’.”

While the parliamentary elections, held every five years since 1979, have not always made waves, next May’s polls promise to have more impact as the deep fractures in national politics reach the European level. 

The elections will determine who leads the major EU institutions, including the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, and are also important as a bellwether of sentiment among the EU’s 500 million people.