by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 19
April 2022
Analysis
13:30

The EU would survive President Marine le Pen

Many of her positions are already found in other member states
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

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. 

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Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
1 month ago

“Populists in government in Italy” is a bit of a stretch at this stage. Certainly M5S and La Liga were elected as populists, but they’ve been transformed in government into just more of the same and with Draghi in charge as the nth unelected presidente del consiglio (PM) they are de facto ruled by the EU.

Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
1 month ago

I was just pointing out that Italy is hardly run by populists even if they were elected as such …M5S and Lega …they are not any more

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago

The EU is the gravy of the gravy train. Whether you spoon a bit off (Brexit) or vigorously stir it (Greece, Italy, potentially Le Pen) the gravy settles down and quickly smooths out.

Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
1 month ago

They just do what they are told by Draghi who is about the 5th unelected PM that Italy has had in the last decade

David George
David George
1 month ago

Surely Le Pen’s plans to nationalise the motorways would run foul of EU laws – as did J Corbyn’s nationalisation plans.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 month ago

Not to mention her agenda would likely be stymied by the recalcitrance National Assembly, like pretty much everyone other occupier of the Presidency in France in recent decades.