The French political agenda for the EU

By Dan Steinbock

After Prime Minister Mark Rutte was able to deter the surge of the radical Geert Wilders in the recent Dutch elections, the EU leaders sighed in relief. In international media, the centre-right Rutte’s win was reported as a triumph for “democracy.” In reality, it was boosted by his appeal to Dutch ethnocentrism.

After spending months behind Wilders in polls, Rutte stated that he shared the feelings of those who thought that “people who refuse to adapt and criticise our values should behave normally or go away”. The pre-election clash between the Netherlands and Turkey allowed Rutte also to play the same card internationally. The tacit signal was: Why would you want to vote for Wilders, if I can deliver the same goods?

By the same metric, the real story of the French election is not whether the winner is Emmanuel Macron, but that the winning agenda has been re-defined by the rise of Marine Le Pen.

A less integrated Europe

Domestically, the new President will struggle to push for structural reforms with or without the consent of the EU, while taking a stricter view on immigration and a tougher stance against Islamic fundamentalism.

France will have a more critical stance toward further EU integration and the euro, which the French voters now share from centre-right to centre-left. In practice, that means a “multi-speed Europe,” in which one size will not fit all, while uneven development will increase. Integration will make room for fragmentation or“differentiation”, whichever sounds better.

In Brussels, Macron is seen as a potential saviour of France and the EU. The greatest fear of the EU leaders involves Le Pen’s quest to unilaterally take France out of the Euro in six months, which would be followed by the effective redenomination of €1.7 trillion of French public debt into francs. Since 80 percent of this debt is not under international law, France would have the right to change the currency.

Unsurprisingly, the international rating agencies, which are headquartered in the US and the UK, have already warned that the net effect would be the largest sovereign default on record, nearly ten times larger than the €200bn Greek debt restructuring in 2012.

Le Pen’s adversaries have warned that her victory would mean a French Armageddon, the plunge of the euro and chaos in the global financial system. In contrast, Le Pen’s economic advisers argue that reintroducing a national currency would allow French franc to fall in value against the euro. That, in turn, would lower France’s total debt burden and permit Paris to begin competitive devaluation.

If Le Pen wins, Paris will also start a process that could ultimately result in a ‘Frexit.’ That’s something that would be unthinkable to the the Europhile Macron.

More independence in foreign policy

Like her supporters, Le Pen believes in French patriotism that relies on a sovereign state that is not reliant on conservative capital, socialist class struggle or Washington’s neoconservative tutelage. That’s classic Gaullism, which stresses national sovereignty and unity. Macron would not use the same terms, but he does emphasise French national interest, along with EU federalism.

Neither De Gaulle nor the Gaullists supported Europe as a supranational entity. However, they favoured European integration as a confederation of sovereign states engaged in common policy and autonomous from the superpowers, such as the United States and the bygone Soviet Union. That project failed as other European powers chose to remain closely allied to Washington. While all French candidates see France among the West, none advocate a Sarkozy-like reliance on Washington anymore.

In foreign policy, the new President will be more cooperative with Russia and President Putin on the crises in the Middle East to Ukraine, while France may actually invest more in defence spending.

In foreign policy, Macron is closest to Washington and his team has suggested that Russia may be intervening in the French election. Other candidates do not share his view and France is not as vulnerable to anti-Russian sentiments as the United States. Furthermore, recent Wikileaks disclosures suggest that it is not so much Moscow but Washington that Paris should be concerned about.

US efforts to shape French elections

In the 2012 French presidential election – as classified CIA “tasking orders” indicate – the agency engaged in a spying campaign ahead of the election. The documents reveal that all major French political parties were targeted for infiltration by the CIA’s human and electronic spies in the seven months leading up to France’s 2012 presidential election. According to the most recent WikiLeaks documents – televisions, smartphones and even anti-virus software are all vulnerable to CIA hacking, which makes any effort to shape the outcome of the impending elections and referendums in Europe relatively easy.

There is no reason to presume that these practices have changed. Washington and the Pentagon favour pro-NATO candidates and will walk the talk. However, the two also tend to like candidates who portray themselves as “beyond left and right,” as Macron has done, but who understand US interests as well. That’s what he proved already in 2012 when he joined the pro-US French-American Foundation (FAF). It is a think-tank that was launched by the US-based Council on Foreign Affairs in the 1970s to counter anti-French sentiment in the US and anti-Americanism among the French elite.

As an FAF “Young Leader,” Macron is walking in the footsteps of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the US, and President Hollande and former prime minister Alain Juppé in France. Unlike Le Pen who wants more independence or Fillon who believes in realpolitik, not to speak of anti-NATO socialists, only Macron is seen as a proven entity in Washington. 

Featured Image Source: Politico

Dr Steinbock is the founder of the Difference Group. He has served as the Research Director of International Business at the India China and America Institute (USA) and as a Visiting Fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies (China) and the EU Centre (Singapore).