CMarine Le Pen could not have seemed clearer in Burgundy the day after reaching the second round of France’s presidential election: “I do not want to leave the EU,” she said. “That’s not my goal.”
However, much of what the leader of the Rassemblement National (National Rally) on the right wants to do – in terms of economy, social policy and immigration – involves breaking EU rules, and her eventual arrival at the Élysée Palace next weekend may prove to be disastrous for block with 27 members.
Le Pen may have dropped previous promises to take France – a founding member of the EU, its second-largest economy and half of the vital Franco-German engine that has run it since its inception – out of the euro’s single currency and bloc.
In the 2017 election, fears of the economic consequences of that policy, especially among older voters worried about their savings, will be broadly seen as having contributed to her heavy defeat in the second round against pro-European Emmanuel Macron.
This time, the EU does not even appear by name among a dozen key themes in Le Pen’s electoral program. However, many of her concrete policy proposals are clearly contrary to the obligations of EU membership.
Opponents and commentators have called the strategy “Frexit in all but name”: an approach that, while perhaps no longer aimed at removing France from the bloc, seeks to reshape the fundamental, and which could lead to a crippling standoff with Brussels.
“Le Pen’s EU policy is: ‘We stay on the bus, but drive it off a cliff'” said Mujtaba Rahman, European Director of Eurasia Group Consulting. It would “try to destroy the EU from within” and was “a much bigger threat to the EU’s status quo than Brexit,” he said.
Pascal Lamy, former chief of staff of former European Commission President Jacques Delors, said a Le Pen victory would be a major shock on a larger scale “than Trump was for the United States, or Brexit for Britain. “
Her “sovereignist, protectionist, nationalist” agenda would “totally contradict France’s commitment to European integration” and include “proposals that are in total violation of the treaties to which France has acceded,” he said.
The key to Le Pen’s plans is an early referendum on a bill on “citizenship, identity and immigration” that would amend the constitution to allow a “national priority” for French citizens in employment, social security and public housing – a measure incompatible with EU values and rules of free movement.
The same referendum would establish “the primacy of national law over European law” to enable France “not only to control immigration but in all other areas to reconcile its European commitment with the preservation of its national sovereignty and the defense of its interests” . says her RN party.
The aim would be to enable France to benefit from a “Europe à la carte”, to pick and choose from the parts of EU law it likes and dislikes – a non-starter for the bloc that was heavily excluded by the 27 during Brexit negotiations with Britain.
“It’s absurd,” said Jean-Louis Bourlanges, a key Member of Parliament and President of the French Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. “As soon as you confirm the primacy of national law, you have no European law. Marine Le Pen has rejected an official exit, but her program is not compatible with continued French membership of the EU.”
Le Pen also aims to re-establish border controls on imports and people violating EU and Schengen rules, and unilaterally cut France’s contribution to the EU budget – once the bloc’s multi-annual financial framework for 2021 to 2027 has already been established. Further plans to lower taxes on essential goods and fuel would violate EU free market rules.
There may still be major questions about how much of this program could be implemented, domestically and in an EU context. Le Pen’s ambitions would be thwarted if she failed to win a parliamentary majority in the June election, and EU legal experts have pointed out that even so much as holding a referendum on the primacy of national law would be contrary to European treaties.
French lawyers also say the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, would overthrow Le Pen’s plan for a referendum by presidential decree – and avoid the need for parliamentary approval – precisely because any referendum aimed at amending the constitution must have the backing of lawmakers. and senators. .
The EU, as it exists today, Le Pen said earlier this year, was “negligent towards people and dominant towards nations”, an “intrusive and authoritarian” bloc locked into “a globalist, open border ideology” that ” destroyed our identity “. ”.
Her vision, she said, was an “alliance of nations… with respect for people, history and national sovereignty”, whose members could “favor their own companies for public contracts” and “restore permanent control” of their borders.
But even though she failed to declare the precedence of French law and establish a national preference, little by little in Le Pen’s program seems to lead France relentlessly down the road towards a conflict-ridden relationship with the EU – with the political chaos consequence given France’s indispensable role in the bloc.
“She could easily put [the EU] in gridlock or paralyze it, ”said Georg Riekeles, a former European Commission official who predicts” a dramatic weakening “of the EU’s ability to deal with crises, from security to climate.
Le Pen has promised to pull France out of NATO’s integrated command structure and remove troops and weapons from joint leadership. She also wants to phase out French wind farms, a strike against France’s EU renewable energy targets. “Any topic will just be more complicated,” Riekeles said.
EU insiders worry that a France led by Le Pen would also give a big boost to national conservative governments in countries such as Poland and Hungary, potentially allying with capitals that have long challenged the supremacy of EU law and are locked in battle. with Brussels.
“It would stop any attempt to change things in Poland and Hungary,” said French MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, who works for the rule of law. While the Green MEP believes that the EU institutions and the internal market will continue under a Le Pen presidency, she believes it “would be the end of a rule of law, value-based EU”.
For the EU, a President Le Pen could mean a five-year crisis with an “empty chair”, Lamy suggested, referring to the events of 1965, when the then French President, Charles de Gaulle, boycotted the European institutions in a row over the budget.
“It’s definitely going to be a big problem in the short term over the next five years,” he said. “I have a hard time believing that if she was elected with the program she has, she would be re-elected.”