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Macron unveils plan for 'European renaissance' ahead of key EU vote

Ludovic Marin, AFP | French president Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference after the European Council on December 14 2018, in Brussels.

French President Emmanuel Macron has made an impassioned defence of a new Europe in a newspaper column published in each of the 28 member states in which he laid out his ideas for a “European renaissance” ahead of elections across the bloc in May.

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Calling the vote “decisive” and warning of Europe being in danger, his words are intended as a wake-up call for the bloc as he seeks to push fundamental reform of the European Union.

"Never since the Second World War has Europe been so necessary. And yet never has Europe been in such a danger," Macronsaid, in what many see as the start of his own campaign for the May European Parliament elections.

He listed a series of initiatives the EU could take both to defend itself and to adhere more closely to its core values.

"A European agency for the protection of democracies would provide European experts to each member state to protect its electoral process against cyber-attacks and manipulation," he suggested.

Financing European political parties from abroad should also be banned, while rules should be agreed on banning "hateful and violent speeches from the internet", he added.

In January, Macron had suggested that the Brexit campaign -- which saw Britain vote to leave the EU -- was "manipulated from the exterior by a lot of what we call fake news".

>> Read the full text of Macron’s address

Brexit, a symbol of Europe's crisis

Brexit, he said, was the "symbol of Europe's crisis in not being able to provide for the people's need for protection in the face of today's" threats.

Macron, who has made no secret of his plans to form a centrist, pro-Europe alliance to stave off populist and nationalist movements which have been gaining ground across the continent, also suggested reforming the 26-member Schengen area which allows free movement between members.

All those who want to belong to Schengen should accept both stricter controls on outer borders and a common asylum policy for migrants, he said.

A number of eastern European EU members, included those run by right-wing governments in Poland and Hungary, have rejected previous calls to take in a share of the migrants arriving from the Middle East and Africa.

Macron suggested Europe should also share a common border force, along with a joint office for dealing with asylum demands.

Warning citizens against the threat of accepting the "status quo" in Europe he urged them to seek change while preserving shared values.

Macron’s column coincides with rising tensions in the West, which has been shaken by US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies and Britain’s departure from the EU. A more assertive China and Russia also pose major challenges.

“In a few weeks, the European elections will be decisive for the future of our continent. Europe has never been as necessary since World War 2 as it is now and yet never has Europe been in such danger,” Macron wrote. “Nationalism offers nothing. It is a project of rejection.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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