MULHOUSE, France (AP) – The idea of an extreme right-wing leader at the head of the EU would be disgusting to most in the 27-nation bloc. But if Emmanuel Macron falters in the French presidential election on April 24, there may be two weeks to go.
Experts say a victory for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen would have huge consequences for the functioning of the EU. Not only would her coming to power damage the democratic values and commercial rules of the 27-nation bloc, but it would also threaten the EU’s common front and sanctions that have been built in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Macron, the incumbent president with strong pro-European views, and Le Pen, an anti-immigration nationalist, could not have had more radically opposite visions of the EU.
“The debate we will have in the next few days is crucial for our country and Europe,” Macron said after the results were announced. On Tuesday, he is on his way to Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament, to talk about France’s role in Europe. All opinion polls show that Macron is the favorite in the poll, but Le Pen has reduced the difference significantly compared to the last presidential election five years ago.
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 essential goods and wants to reduce taxes on fuel – which would be contrary to EU free market rules.
Macron told reporters during a stop in the eastern city of Mulhouse that he “believes in Europe” and praised EU action that “changed the lives of our fellow citizens”, such as the collective purchase of vaccines in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He 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,” Macron said. “It means she wants out (of the EU) but does not dare say it anymore.”
Jean-Claude Piris, who served as legal adviser to the European Council and is an expert on EU institutions, said a victory for Le Pen would have the effect of an “earthquake”. Her measures would in practice amount to a withdrawal from the bloc of 27 nations, he said.
“She is in favor of a form of state-sponsored economic patriotism that is contrary to internal market rules,” Piris said in an interview with The Associated Press. “France would no longer participate in the common free market and commercial policies.”
“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’s arrival would also threaten unanimity among the 27 on the sanctions they have adopted so far against Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine. She could prevent further measures from being adopted. The bloc is currently considering the possibility of adding 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 annexed by 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.
Piris believes that even if Le Pen could find allies in a few right-wing governments currently in power in Eastern Europe, she would be met by hostile reactions from most other EU members.
Louis Alliot, vice president of Le Pen’s National Rally party, said on Monday on the news broadcaster France Info that France’s allies will include Hungary and Poland.
A report by the Center for European Reform published on Monday highlighted how Le Pen could very well 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 in advance cumbersome decision making.
“The difference is that France … is indispensable to the EU,” the report stressed, saying the consequences would be “political chaos.”
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, called the situation “very, very worrying.”
Le Pen as French president “would not just be an upheaval in Europe as a value project, a peace project; it would put us on a completely different track in the essence of the EU,” Asselborn said. “The French must prevent that.”
Casert and Petrequin reported from Brussels. Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy, and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.