April 19, 2022 - 1:30pm

This morning, the BBC reports on accusations that Marine Le Pen has a “secret ‘Frexit’ agenda.”

As part of her moderation strategy, she is no longer offering a referendum on French membership of the EU or withdrawal from the single currency. However, Emmanuel Macron’s allies — keen to re-toxify her brand — insist that “she’s questioning some fundamentals of the EU.” 

So, if she does beat the odds and wins on Sunday, would she wreck the EU? The BBC report focuses on three possible breaking points: Le Pen’s promises to cut contributions to the EU budget, restrict migration and challenge the supremacy of EU law. 

Undoubtedly, her agenda would be disruptive, but she wouldn’t be breaking new ground on any of these issues. For instance, on the EU budget, she’d find allies among the Frugal Four countries (who oppose further moves towards fiscal integration). As for immigration, the fences — both physical and metaphorical — are already going up. That’s especially true on the EU’s eastern frontier, but a hard line is also being taken in supposedly ‘liberal’ countries like Denmark. When it comes to shutting the gates, Le Pen is pushing on an open door. 

It’s possible that she’d want to go further and restrict migration into France from other EU countries. This would be a direct challenge to the most contentious of the EU’s four freedoms — free movement of persons. If this was backed by the French people in a referendum, then a constitutional crisis would ensue. However, it’s worth pointing out that the primacy of EU law is already contested. 

The BBC quotes Jonathan Eyal, of the RUSI think tank, as saying that Le Pen’s plans would mean the EU looking more like “a gaggle of nations states rather than a unified concept”. And yet the fact is that the EU is a gaggle of nation states. The contradiction between the principle of national sovereignty and goal of “ever closer union” has never been resolved. As a political entity, the EU is fundamentally incoherent, which is why it has failed so badly on EU-wide challenges like Covid vaccine procurement and the response to the Ukraine crisis. 

That’s not to say that the election of Marine Le Pen would be inconsequential. It would undoubtedly apply further strain to pre-existing fault lines. However, the British Leavers and Remainers who respectively hope or fear that Le Pen would destroy the EU are both making the same mistake. 

The EU is not as allergic to populism as they might imagine. Right now there are populists in government in Poland, Hungary and Italy. There have been previous examples in Greece, the Netherlands and Czechia.

Of course, a Le Pen victory in France would be the biggest shock to the system yet. The result would be paralysis, protectionism, internal bickering, constant arguments over money and as pathetic weakness in the face of Putin — or, in other words, an EU that looks more like itself, not less. 

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.