France's Macron wants EU-wide referendum, far-left slams Hollande 'nervousness'

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s economy minister said on Saturday that the European Union needs a new road map that should be devised in consultation with voters and then put to a referendum, as Paris sought for ways to handle the fallout at home from the Brexit vote.

Slideshow ( 7 images )

The British people’s vote to leave the EU has deepened fears among mainstream politicians across Europe about the rise of anti-establishment parties, particularly in France, where the far-right, eurosceptic National Front is increasingly popular.

“We’ve never had the courage to organize a true European referendum in its real sense. This next project must give it that strength,” Emmanuel Macron told a conference.

“We would first build this new project with European peoples and then submit this new road map, this new project, to a referendum,” he said, adding that the idea was to have one single referendum across the bloc.

Macron’s talk of an EU-wide referendum goes beyond comments made by President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who both said the EU needed to reinvent itself after the Brexit vote but made no reference to a popular vote.

His comments could stir tensions within the ruling Socialist Party, which in 2005 had been deeply split over a proposed new EU constitution, eventually blocked by referendums in France and the Netherlands.

Macron’s comments did, however, chime with those of Alain Juppe, a center-right former prime minister leading opinion polls for the 2017 presidential election. Juppe also wants a referendum, not on membership but on a new EU project that France, Germany and other core countries would work on.

Hollande met political party leaders from the far-left to the far-right, one after the other, on Saturday to discuss the Brexit vote. All called for change, but with very different ideas in mind.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen said after their meeting that Hollande “will take no notice of all the signals that have been sent for years by people in Europe and France, not even after the British people’s decision to leave the EU”.

Le Pen, who opinion polls suggest will top the first round of next year’s presidential election but lose the run-off, says France should ditch the euro, leave the Schengen border-free area and organize its own referendum on EU membership.

After his own meeting with Hollande, left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon said: “What’s on the agenda now is nervousness and patch-up jobs.”

Hollande, who is likely to run for a second mandate next year, registered his lowest approval rating in a survey by the BVA group, scoring just 18 percent in a poll issued on Saturday.

France is one of the countries pressing Britain to kickstart the process of leaving the bloc quickly so the rest of the bloc can concentrate shaping the future of Europe.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Richard Lough and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Kevin Liffey