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Macron's plea for Europe lays down battle lines for May vote

FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018 file photo demonstrator holds a portrait of France's President Emmanuel Macron during a protest on Paris' famed Champs-Elysees Avenue, France. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

By LORI HINNANT and SYLVIE CORBET Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron’s plea to voters in 28 nations to choose a stronger European Union has gained support from outside his borders — and a good deal of skepticism from within.
In a column published for Tuesday’s editions throughout the bloc, Macron advised voters in the May 23-26 EU parliament elections to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing,” laying down the battle lines for the vote.
Instead, Macron called on people to support parties who want to strengthen Europe.
Macron himself defeated an anti-EU candidate to become modern France’s youngest leader, but his popularity at home has dipped since taking office to the strains of the bloc’s anthem, “Ode to Joy.”
The column is his furthest-reaching attempt to shore up the EU, where nationalist and populist candidates have seen gains, including in neighboring Italy and most recently in the Estonia general election on Sunday.
“Freedom, protection and progress: we need to build European renewal on these pillars. We can’t let nationalists with no solutions exploit people’s anger. We can’t sleepwalk to a diminished Europe. We can’t remain in the routine of business as usual and wishful thinking,” he wrote.
He proposed the creation of an agency to protect member states’ elections from cyberattacks and other manipulations. He also seeks to ban the financing of EU political parties by foreign powers.
To address migration, Macron called for stricter border controls, a common border force, and common asylum rules.
Macron also called for Europe to lead the fight against climate change by setting a target of zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and cutting pesticide use in half by 2025.
Macron’s office said the French president’ approach is “legitimate and useful” to open a European debate without interfering in domestic politics.
It added that the French presidency had informed all 28 EU governments ahead of the publication.
In a tweet Tuesday, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila offered support for Macron’s call for “security, sustainable growth and ambitious climate policy.”
Sipila added that people needed to see “the EU that is capable of making decisions and implementing them.”
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said he particularly hoped for “a Europe that protects liberty and democracy,” according to the agency Belga.
The German government said it’s important for pro-European forces to set out their ideas for the future of the EU, but didn’t offer any immediate assessment of Macron’s latest reform proposals.
In France, Macron’s ratings remain low in popularity polls even if he appeared to regain a little support in recent weeks, as he tries to quell the yellow vest anti-government protest movement.
The polls suggest that Macron’s party appears ahead of the far-right National rally in European Parliament elections.
The French opposition criticized Macron’s tribune on Tuesday.
“Macron is all alone on the European stage. He got angry with the countries in the East, treating them as though they were insane. He got angry with Italy, treating it as a nationalist leper,” Jordan Bardella, head of the candidate list for France’s far-right National Rally, told BFM television. “He is now totally alone in his plans for a federal Europe, for a European renaissance, while all the people of Europe want to regain their power, their national sovereignty.”
Nadine Morano of the opposition Republicans noted that France seems to figure little in Macron’s plans.
“In this column, the word France appears just once,” she told FranceInfo radio. “This is Macronism — France has to disappear into this European federalism.”
Since he arrived in office in May 2017, Macron has made a point of visiting 19 European countries.
But that did not prevent tensions from breaking out between France and nations where populist parties govern, from Poland and Hungary to Italy.
Last October, Macron harshly accused Hungarian and Polish leaders of “lying” to their people about the EU, pointing at their “crazy spirits” during a visit to Slovakia.
France last month saw its most serious diplomatic dispute with Italy since World War II. Paris even recalled its ambassador for a few days to protest perceived Italian meddling in French domestic politics, after Italian Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio met with French yellow vest activists seeking to run for the European Parliament.
Italy’s anti-migrant Interior minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and said he hoped the French would not back him in upcoming elections.
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Jan M. Olsen contributed to this report from Copenhagen, Denmark.