Potential right-wing extremist victory in France seen as a threat to the EU

STRASBOURG, France – French President Emmanuel Macron and right-wing extremist politician Marine Le Pen on Tuesday expressed two radically opposite visions of Europe: one spoke out strongly for the bloc of 27 nations, the other defended its French nationalist mottos.

If Macron falters in France’s presidential election between the two on April 24, the far right could lead the EU, a heinous idea for most leaders in the bloc.

Experts say a victory for Le Pen would have huge consequences for the functioning of the EU. Not only would her coming to power harm the bloc’s democratic values ​​and commercial rules, but it would also threaten the EU’s common front and sanctions in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Macron went to Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament, on Tuesday to talk about France’s role in Europe. All opinion polls show that he is the favorite in the round, but Le Pen has reduced the gap significantly compared to when Macron practically won five years ago.

“Nationalism is war,” Macron warned in front of thousands of supporters renouncing French and European flags.

At a time when “war is back on the European continent … it is through Europe that we want to create peace,” he said, greeting a large Ukrainian flag that was dropped in front of the stage.

“Europe is a treasure we have patiently built, but which will also enable us to respond to the challenges of the future,” he added.

The outdoor meeting, near the city’s cathedral from the 12th century, was closed by the French and European anthems.

France has always stood at the heart of the EU – a founding member who has partnered with neighboring country and historic rival Germany to make the bloc an economic giant and an icon of Western values. Handing over the infamous perch to a far-right politician would be bad enough. But as chance would have it, France also has the EU’s rotating six-month presidency this spring, which also allows it to speak to the power of the 27.

It is a pedestal few people want to offer Le Pen. The National Rally Leader wants to establish national border controls on imports and people, reduce France’s contribution to the EU budget and stop recognizing that European law takes precedence over national law.

She has proposed eliminating taxes on hundreds of goods and wants to reduce taxes on fuel – which would be contrary to the EU’s free market rules and efforts to combat climate change.

Although Le Pen has removed Frexit from its platform, her hostility to the EU is still evident. In a speech to France Inter radio on Tuesday, Le Pen said on Tuesday that “a large majority of French people no longer want the EU as it exists today.” She accused the bloc of acting “in an absolutely anti-democratic way.”

She rejected critics’ accusations that her policy would be tantamount to a French exit from the EU. Instead, she said the EU could be changed “from within”.

Macron accused Le Pen of talking “nonsense”.

“She explains that she will not pay the bill for the (EU) club, that she will change the rules, but will change the rules alone,” he said. “It means she wants out (of the EU), but does not dare say it anymore.”

Jean-Claude Piris, acting as legal adviser to the European Council, said a victory for Le Pen would have the effect of an “earthquake”.

“She is in favor of a form of economic patriotism with state aid, which is contrary to internal market rules,” Piris told the Associated Press.

“She wants to change the French constitution by giving priority to the French, by suppressing the right to land, the right to asylum,” which would be “totally incompatible with the values ​​of the European treaties,” Piris added.

Piris said Le Pen would also threaten unanimity among the bloc’s 27 nations on the sanctions they have so far adopted against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. She could prevent further measures from being adopted. The bloc is currently considering whether to add further restrictions on oil imports from Russia.

Le Pen has built close ties with the Kremlin over the years. In her previous attempt to become the French president in 2017, she called for strong security ties with Moscow to jointly fight radical Islamic groups. She also promised to recognize Crimea – the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 – as part of Russia.

Le Pen acknowledged that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had “partially” changed her view of Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he was “wrong” and expressing his support for the Ukrainian people and refugees.

A report by the Center for European Reform highlighted how Le Pen could go the same way as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki in throwing roadblocks up for Brussels where she can, to further slow down the EU’s already cumbersome decision-making.

“The difference is that France … is indispensable to the EU,” the report stressed, saying the consequences would be “political chaos.”

Macron drew a similar parallel with Hungary, warning that the far-right Le Pen would do the same as he said happening in Budapest: “methodically, gradually reducing and degrading rights.”

CER experts also believe that Le Pen’s policy would clash with the bloc’s climate goals. Le Pen is in favor of expanding the nuclear power plant, and several non-governmental groups have warned that she would slow down the transition to renewable energy.

On top of that, the traditional Franco-German tandem would be undermined, with the German socialist chancellor, Olaf Scholz, highly unlikely to reach any compromise with Le Pen.

Luxembourg’s longtime foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said Le Pen, as French president, “would put us on a completely different track in the essence of the EU.”

“The French must prevent that,” he said.

————

Casert and Petrequin reported from Brussels. Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy, and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.

Leave a Comment