European Council President Donald Tusk has suggested “external anti-European forces” influenced the Brexit vote.
The top EU official made the claim as he backed up French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent call for a series of reforms to the EU, as part of a “European renaissance”.
Among Mr Macron’s suggestions was a new agency to protect the election processes of EU member states against cyber attacks and manipulation.
With 79 days until elections to the European Parliament, Mr Tusk said: “There are external anti-European forces, which are seeking – openly or secretly – to influence the democratic choices of Europeans, as was the case with Brexit and a number of election campaigns across Europe.
“And it may again be the case with the European elections in May.
“This is why I am calling on all those who care about the EU, to cooperate closely during and after the European elections.
“Do not allow political parties that are funded by external forces, hostile to Europe, to decide on key priorities for the EU, and the new leadership of European institutions.
“We cannot wait for the renaissance of Europe – the renaissance of Europe must start now.”
Mr Tusk commented on Mr Macron’s remarks following a meeting with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Tuesday.
The House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee recently called on the government to investigate the Russian state’s attempts to influence the 2016 EU referendum.
The government previously said it “has not seen evidence of successful use of disinformation by foreign actors, including Russia, to influence UK democratic processes” although it acknowledged that disinformation campaigns took place.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has suggested the EU referendum result may have been “stolen” by the Russian state.
Mr Macron’s call for an overhaul of the EU came in an open letter he penned, which was published by 28 European newspapers, including the Guardian, Germany’s Die Welt and El Pais in Spain.
His proposals also included a “rethink” of the EU’s borderless Schengen area, a European security council, and an EU minimum wage.
Mr Macron also raised the prospect of the UK remaining within an altered EU.
Germany’s finance minister Olaf Scholz welcomed the French president’s message, saying Mr Macron “has sent a determined signal for cohesion in Europe”.
“I see us right beside Paris when it comes to reforms for a Europe that is capable of acting and a stable euro,” he added.
A spokesman for the European Commission said: “For a European renaissance, France and the Commission are fighting the same fight.”
However, Mr Macron’s message wasn’t as warmly welcomed by other EU leaders.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis was not impressed with the push to persuade voters to support parties that will strengthen the EU.
“I don’t like it at all,” he said.
“I don’t think it goes in the right direction. I’m surprised by the call.”
Hungary’s nationalist government, which frequently clashes with Brussels, said: “Macron … believes immigration is good. We believe it is bad.”
(c) Sky News 2019: EU’s Donald Tusk: ‘External anti-European forces’ influenced Brexit vote