Mujtaba Rahman is the Europe Practice Leader for Eurasia Group and the author of POLITICO’s Beyond the Bubble column. He tweets at @Mij_Europe.
One of the curiosities of the French presidential election, ahead of the first round of voting last weekend, was the failure of the media and President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign to highlight the extreme and potentially destructive nature of the program of Marine Le Pen on Europe. . Fortunately, that is now starting to change.
A victory for Le Pen on April 24 would have disastrous consequences for the European Union – and this should be made clear.
Le Pen’s presidential campaign so far has been based on the successful ruse that she is now a moderate patriot, whose goal is to shift economic power and advantage from the rich and elite to the people. ordinary. But while his economic program is indeed interventionist and left-wing, his other policies remain as extreme and nationalistic as ever.
Although Le Pen now says she does not want to leave the EU, almost all of her economic program and much of her social and migration policy depends on breaking EU laws. However, she does not openly acknowledge this fact, instead relying on the widespread ignorance of many French voters about how the EU works.
In fact, she says she wants to stay on the EU bus – but drive it off a cliff. A careful examination of Le Pen’s program highlights its incompatibility with EU membership: through a constitutional amendment, Le Pen would seek to make possible discrimination against foreign residents, including EU residents, in terms of employment, well-being and housing. It would withhold €5 billion a year in payments from the EU budget, give preference to French companies on all national and local government contracts, and provide additional subsidies to French farmers. She also says she would reimpose controls at France’s land borders with Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and Spain.
All of these policies would break EU laws and threaten to destroy the single market. If implemented, they would undoubtedly lead to legal action and financial retaliation from Brussels and national courts, causing the biggest crisis in EU history. France, at the heart of Europe, could find itself isolated, or at the head of a small group of dissident nations.
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Le Pen’s ambitions may still be frustrated, as it seems unlikely that she will win a parliamentary majority in June’s National Assembly elections. But the French electorate has never refused a working majority to a recently elected president, who could therefore allow her to concoct a form of majority for some of her proposals. There are also emergency powers she could use to override parliament, and in any case the Fifth Republic constitution would give her substantial direct powers over European, international and defense policy.
Le Pen has distanced herself from Russian President Vladimir Putin since he invaded Ukraine, but she continues to say that Moscow should be an ally, not an enemy, once the war is over. She also wants to stop arms shipments to Ukraine and ease Western sanctions against Russia, especially those that cause domestic pain in France. His victory would make it difficult, if not impossible, to implement EU-wide import bans on Russian oil and gas.
At the same time, Le Pen believes that France should reduce its “dependence” on Germany and the United States. And when it comes to NATO, she says she would pull France out of its integrated military structure, which it joined just 13 years ago, while remaining within the alliance – a move that contradicts his wish to make Putin a French ally.
Le Pen seeks to overturn the tolerant, outward-looking and pro-European post-war French consensus. At best, it would lead to confusion and a five-year paralysis in Paris and Brussels. At worst, it could trigger a process that could tear the EU apart from within and remove a key nation – a nuclear power, G7 member and permanent member of the UN Security Council – from the Western alliance.
Le Pen’s campaign platform amounts to stealth Frexit – or at the very least, mimicking Hungary’s policy of disruption and disobedience – and it’s time to realize it as such. For Budapest, systematically breaking EU law is a dangerous challenge for Brussels. But for France, a founding member of the EU and its second largest economy, it would render the union unenforceable and raise the prospect of its collapse.
After weeks of extraordinary passivity by the Macron campaign and much of the media, Le Pen’s European and foreign policy will now come under intense scrutiny over the next 10 days, ahead of the second election round. They should be.
Far more than Brexit ever did, Le Pen’s policies pose a great threat to the EU and to the liberal, democratic, Western status quo. This is something everyone – and French voters in particular – need to understand.