Europe Minister Denis Macshane has launched a fierce attack on former French president Valery Giscard D'Estaing, calling his vision for Europe "Napoleonic".
He pointed to an article by the man who drew up the draft European constitution saying Europe could not really respond to the Madrid bombings because it had no single president.
Mr Macshane said the comments were "old ideas from an old man about an old vision of Europe".
His attack came in a speech to delegates at Labour's spring conference in Manchester.
Mr Giscard D'Estaing's told the International Herald Tribune on Saturday: "As long as we have a system that in effect does not institutionalise authority and power, you will have committees.
"And committees do not have emotions."
The former French president chaired the convention which drew up the draft constitution, which did not include the idea of a single EU president.
Talks between European leaders on the constitution collapsed in December.
Mr Macshane told a closed session of the European section of the conference about Mr Giscard d'Estaing's comments: "These are old ideas from an old man about an old vision of Europe that is not where the people and nations of Europe want to go.
"We do not want a single figurehead for Europe. We want a network Europe, a team Europe of partners not a single leader - not a Napoleonic Europe."
Mr Macshane outlined a British vision of Europe as a community of nations.