[PARIS] The European Union has suffered an "explosive shock" and must reinvent itself to prevent its break-up and restore the confidence of voters, France's leaders said on Friday after Britain voted to quit the bloc.
President Francois Hollande said Europe now faced a tough test and France would make proposals to ensure the EU focused on its key remits of security and defence, investment for growth and jobs, and reinforcing the eurozone.
But he and Prime Minster Manuel Valls also saw a need for ensuring the EU's member states and their people remained in control to tackle growing disillusionment over Europe among voters.
France's eurosceptic far right National Front party, however, hailed Britain's 'brexit' vote, with FN leader Marine Le Pen describing it as a "victory for freedom" and calling for a French referendum too on EU membership.
"Europe must act quickly where it's needed and must, once and for all, let member states handle what is their exclusive domain," Mr Hollande said in a televised address.
Britain's decision to pull out of the bloc was largely driven by anti-immigration sentiment and a belief that Brussels was commandeering too much power from member states.
With a presidential election scheduled next year, the deeply unpopular ruling Socialist Party is lagging behind an increasingly strong FN which is anti-immigrant and anti-euro.
"Extremists and populists pose an immense danger," Mr Hollande said. "France, a founding member of Europe will not accept it," he said, adding that he would take initiatives to jolt the bloc back on track.
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," Mr Valls said. "Now is the time to invent another Europe."
Mr Hollande will travel to Berlin on Monday to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and is also scheduling meetings with the leaders of France's main political parties.
Le Pen's party was the only major French party to call for Britons to vote to leave the EU. She said on Friday that if elected next year she would launch swift negotiations with the EU to win back national sovereignty and then hold a referendum on membership.
"Europe will be at the heart of the presidential election," Le Pen said. "Victory for freedom!" she said, displaying the British flag on her Twitter page. "We now need to hold the same referendum in France and in (other) EU countries.
For more coverage of the EU referendum, visit bt.sg/BrexiT