PARIS –– The European Union has suffered an “explosive shock” and must reinvent itself to prevent its break-up and restore the confidence of voters, French leaders said on Friday after Britain voted to quit the bloc.
President Francois Hollande must navigate a fine line between tackling French voters’ increasing disillusionment with the EU and France’s ambition to be in the driving seat alongside the bloc’s powerhouse Germany.
He said on Friday he would make proposals to ensure the EU moved forward on key remits of security and defense, investment for growth and jobs, and reinforcing the euro zone.
But he also insisted it cannot be business as usual for the EU and deep changes must be made.
“Europe must be understood and controlled by its citizens. Europe must act quickly where it’s needed and must, once and for all, let member states handle what is their exclusive domain,” he said in a televised address.
From the far-left to the far-right, French politicians of all stripes stressed Brexit suddenly made Europe a top theme for next year’s presidential election. They all had the same message Friday –– Europe must change –– but with very different methods.
For far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, who hailed Britain’s Brexit vote as a “victory for freedom,” change means scrapping the euro, leaving the Schengen border-free area and carrying out a referendum on EU membership.
Centre-right former prime minister Alain Juppe, whom opinion polls see likely to win the 2017 election, also wants a referendum, he said, in a shift from previous comments –– but on a new EU project France, Germany and other core countries would work on, not on membership of the bloc.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy said he wants a new treaty and the suspension of Turkey’s EU accession negotiations.
Hollande, who has scheduled meetings with the leaders of France’s main political parties on Saturday, will travel to Berlin on Monday to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
He did not spell out what proposals he would make.
“In a country that is increasingly eurosceptic, even politicians who are historically pro-European like Hollande must be careful,” said Francois Miquet-Marty, head of the Viavoice polling institute.
While the French were largely attached to EU membership, polls over the past few years consistently showed a majority want Europe to have less powers, Miquet-Marty said.
France is the country where support for the EU has fallen the most this year, according to the Washington-based Pew Research Centre.
French Prime Minister Valls said the Brexit vote revealed a malaise within Europe that had been ignored for too long. It was time to reinvent Europe or risk the bloc’s fragmentation, he said.
“At stake is the break-up pure and simple of the union,” Valls said. “Now is the time to invent another Europe.”