PARIS (AP) — With Brexit looming and nationalism rising, French President Emmanuel Macron's pro-EU party has launched its campaign for the European Parliament elections.
The centrist Republic on the Move party and its allies held a rally Saturday in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers. The group calls itself Renaissance.
Polls suggest Renaissance will be among France's top two vote-getters in the May election, which takes place in each European Union nation between May 23-26 and in France on May 26. The group appears slightly ahead of Marine Le Pen's anti-immigration, far-right National Rally party.
Saturday's Renaissance rally was led by Nathalie Loiseau, who quit this week as France's European Affairs minister to lead the campaign. Loiseau notably handled France's Brexit preparations.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and several government officials attended the event.
"Some want to make us believe that the past was a better time, they want to come back to nationalism, to Europe's demons... don't let them win!", Loiseau said, expressing concerns about the rise of far-right parties in many EU countries.
She pointed to the situation in Britain, where she said "sorcerer's apprentices" pushed for the country's departure from the EU "with no vision, no project."
"Now the damage is done. Britain is leaving us without knowing where it goes. Confusion reigns, concerns are growing," she told the rally.
Loiseau said the EU should make fighting climate change and improving its responses to immigration issues the continent's top priorities.
"We must ensure a more efficient control of our (EU) external borders, by dedicating more personnel and more resources and further assisting countries that are on the front line," she said.
At the same time, she insisted EU must better welcome refugees who are fleeing wars.
"Europe has known crisis and needs a renaissance... don't wait for a better Europe. Change it!" she concluded to wide applause by supporters, who chanted "We will win! We will win!"
French voters will fill 79 of the European legislature's 705 seats. Macron hopes his pro-EU vision can inspire voters beyond France's borders, too. In some EU countries, however, support is growing for nationalist politicians who want to reinstate borders and roll back the European cooperation built up since World War II.
Earlier this month, Macron called for a "European Renaissance" in an open letter published across the EU. He called on voters to choose a stronger EU and to reject nationalist parties.
The French leader's proposals included creating an agency to protect EU nations' elections from cyberattacks and other manipulations and a ban on foreign powers financing EU political parties.
Angela Charlton contributed to the story