Three socialist heads of government, Pedro Sánchez, António Costa and Olaf Scholz, published this Thursday a forum in Le Monde calling on the French people, in the name of Europe, not to vote for the extreme right. This is an almost unprecedented appeal, which shows how worried some European capitals are about the outcome of this Sunday’s French presidential election.
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“The second round of the French presidential elections is not, for us, an election like the others. The decision facing the French people is crucial for France and for all of us in Europe,” they write. “A choice between a democratic candidate, who believes that France is stronger in a strong and autonomous European Union, and a far-right candidate, who openly sides with those who attack our freedom and our democracy, fundamental values that come from Straight out of the French Enlightenment.
In general, community leaders tend to avoid such statements before national elections, so that EU leaders cannot be accused of interfering in the democratic life of another member state. Also, one way or another, they have to relate to the winner. But Marine Le Pen, whom the polls a week ago placed five points behind the current president – today she would be 14, according to Ipsos–, defends a project that is disturbing in Brussels, Madrid and Berlin.
If one of the EU’s engines – and its only nuclear power – joins the bloc of ultra-conservative leaders, with countries like Hungary and Poland, it could deal a fatal blow to European unity. “The presidential election is also a referendum on Europe,” Macron said in a speech in Strasbourg last week. “The moment is even more serious, because the war has returned to the heart of the continent since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on February 24.” A conflict that “is likely to last, with the risk of destabilizing the security of the EU for a long time.”
Europe and Ukraine
The context has changed a lot compared to the 2017 elections. The candidate of the then National Front made leaving the euro one of the axes of her campaign. At that time, the EU was still weakened by three major crises: the economic crisis in the eurozone in 2010, the so-called “refugee crisis” in 2015 and Brexit in 2016.
Today, even more than five years ago, the French continue to support the European project and the idea of a solitary destiny seduces only a Eurosceptic minority, perhaps, but not a Europhobe. In addition, Macron has to his credit the European recovery plan of 750,000 million euros, financed by a common debt for the first time in the history of the EU, of which he was one of the promoters.
Le Pen has understood this evolution and has modified his speech in form, although not in substance. The National Group (AN) candidate has not abandoned her plans to create an alternative to the Union, which she continues to be a fundamental part of her program, but she has softened them.
Also, in 2022, polls say voters are concerned about purchasing power. However, Europe was omnipresent in the only debate on Wednesday. It was named 125 times, nearly twice as many as in any other presidential debate. “You are very Eurocentric,” Le Pen told the president. “France is a world power, not just a European one.”
Russia and NATO
A few days earlier, Marine Le Pen had gathered the press in the luxurious Hoche rooms, in the west of the capital, for a press conference on her vision of international politics. Solemn atmosphere, podium, staging to underline the credibility of her proposals in the diplomatic field. However, the image that opened the news that night was that of his security team dragging out an activist who was displaying a photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Le Pen shaking hands
His links with Moscow have become one of the great burdens of these last weeks of the campaign. “You depend on Russian power and on Mr. Putin,” Macron accused him during the debate, referring to the credit that Le Pen’s party received from a Russian bank (First Czech Russian Bank) and is still repaying.
In fact, at the press conference on April 13, Le Pen only mentioned Russia to defend “bilateral dialogue” and did not mention Ukraine even once. “As soon as the Russo-Ukrainian war ends,” he said, he will advocate “a strategic rapprochement between NATO and Russia.”
Le Pen claimed that day a “tradition Westphalian” of international relations [en referencia al tratado de Westfalia de 1648 que puso fin a la guerra de los treinta años]. A reference from the 17th century for a candidate who does not support multilateralism and who predicts a distance –or break– with the EU, NATO and other organizations such as the WTO and the UN, in case of victory.
“A careful reading of her program shows that it would inevitably lead to an exit from the European Union and the euro, the press conference on international politics that the president of the AN gave on April 13 made it more clear, since she defends a return to nation-states as they existed in the 19th century”, analyzed the newspaper liberation.
However, Le Pen insisted on Wednesday that she no longer wants to leave NATO altogether, just to get out of integrated command again (General de Gaulle pulled France out of it in 1966 and did not rejoin until 2009). The rejection of NATO is a family inheritance: in 2007, Jean-Marie Le Pen was already advocating leaving the alliance to strengthen ties with Moscow, “with a view to developing a ‘boreal sphere’ from Brest (in Brittany) to Vladivostok” . His daughter has made this vision of Europe her own, while she has strengthened ties with Putin’s circles of power. A few hours before the presidential debate, Russian opponent Alexei Navalny described in a Twitter thread the relations that the aforementioned Russian bank has with people close to the president.
The shadow of ‘Frexit’
In addition to her acknowledged admiration – at least until recently – for Putin, Viktor Orbán’s Hungary could be another model in Europe for her.
Le Pen, who has also praised Boris Johnson’s measures, has Germany as one of the most common targets of her criticism. “Germany imposes itself as the absolute opposite of the French strategic identity, based on independence, deterrence and a complete army model,” he said at his press conference, citing “irreconcilable strategic differences” with Berlin, after the announcement of the acquisition of American fighters.
In reality, his program is contrary to the European construction as it exists today. Macron accuses him of “advancing masked” towards leaving the EU. In his program, Le Pen speaks of “a European Alliance of Nations”, which aims to gradually replace the Union. For starters, if she is elected, she has declared that she will remove the European flag from all official buildings in the country.
In addition, it affirms that it will unilaterally reduce the French contribution to the community budget. He wants to organize a referendum that inscribes “the superiority of constitutional law over European law” and also abandons the community immigration policy, annuls the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the European Green Deal and abandons the internal electricity market.
The concept of “national preference” that it intends to inscribe in the French Constitution is incompatible with European treaties, as is the reestablishment of national borders and the end of the Schengen area of free movement. “Applying ‘national priority’ to EU nationals is also contrary to community law,” he summarizes media part. “Denying access to employment or social housing is contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. It would be a kind of de facto ‘Frexit’, which would not be without consequences for France”.
Although she no longer openly defends it, Le Pen can barely hide her fascination with Brexit. “When the United Kingdom left the EU, the French political class spoke of a nationalist and insular withdrawal, and predicted a cataclysm for the English. But it has not been the case. The British have moved from the Brussels bureaucracy to the ambitious concept of ‘global Britain’, he has said in recent weeks. “The more we free ourselves from the shackles of Brussels, the more we will look to the rest of the world. That is what the British have understood.”