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The European Union (EU) flag is seen on a sunny day and blue sky at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

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BERLIN (Reuters) - German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned on Thursday that the European Union could fall apart if populists in France or the Netherlands win in elections this year.

"The French presidential elections this spring are bitter fateful elections for Europe," Gabriel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

He added: "After Brexit last year, if enemies of Europe manage again in the Netherlands or in France to get results then we face the threat that the largest civilization project of the 20th century, namely the European Union, could fall apart."

(Reporting by Michelle Martin and Michael Nienaber; Writing by Joseph Nasr)

Reuters