CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said on Thursday Europe must prioritize growth over deficit-slashing if it wants to weaken the anti-European movement ahead of elections next year.
He said the European Union had already survived an existential crisis that threatened to bring down the common currency, but was now facing another crisis stemming from a lack of economic growth and high unemployment.
"Making growth one of Europe's focal points is an issue that takes on a heightened importance when one looks ahead to the election in 2014," Moscovici told an academic audience at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"I'm personally convinced that Europe has to give its citizens reasons for hope ... Or else we will see a push of the anti-Europe movement. I'm not especially afraid of that, but I combat that," he said.
France's far-right National Front - a Eurosceptic, nationalistic party - appears poised to top European Parliament elections next May, pulling ahead of the two big mainstream parties for the first time in a nationwide vote, a poll showed on Wednesday.
The National Front has long been a magnet for protest votes, but its leader Marine Le Pen is increasingly expanding her appeal to disgruntled Socialist and UMP voters.
France is planning a budget deficit of 4.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 and 3.6 percent in 2014, both exceeding earlier targets of cutting the deficit to below 3 percent this year. Moscovici said that target had been pushed back to 2015.
"It gives us more room in order to realize a growth friendly policy," he said. "Europe cannot be a punishment. Europe has to be a hope and a future," Moscovici said.
He also reiterated his support for increased European integration, proposing the creation of a euro area budget funded in part by euro bonds, a euro area chamber in the European parliament, and a euro area finance minister.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by James Dalgleish)