Will Marine Le Pen apocalyptically change France, Europe?

With FN of Marine Le Pen election success many observers are predicting that if FN will be even more successful it may lead to break-up of the EU or at least to fundamental changes in the EU. May I ask for your view on this, do you think we could see this dynamic toward bigger pressure on the EU, maybe also multiply by the UK referendum on the EU? Read few comments.

Kristian SteinnesProfessor, Department of Historical Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

I do agree, Ms Le Pens electoral success is worrying in the sense that it has the potential to undermine post-war European integration and European cooperation as we currently know it. And I think you are right to put it in context of the British referendum on the EU. I also think it has to be viewed in the light of extreme right wing parties being more successful in many countries (even in Scandinavia – for example Sverigedemokraterna in Sweden and ‘The true Finns’ in Finland). In Denmark the electorate turned down the government’s proposition to adopt EU rules on cross-border policing in the recent referendum. Yet I believe Ms Le Pen’s and FN’s electoral success has to be viewed in a greater context, and one important strand is today’s challenges, the economic crisis (the Euro), the immigration issue and recently the terrorist attacks in Paris. Also, I think the unpopular president Holland and his socialist party is part of the explanations. This might indicate that her electoral success is determined by current challenges, but there is also an underlying trend of a strengthened FN, so I think there are also long-term trends adding to the picture – for example frustration with and lack of trust in the political elite. All this is pushing many voters to the right.

Yet, however the reason, a strong FN, stronger right wing parties all over Europe and the potential of a rich and big country (UK) leaving the EU, have the potential to put pressure on the EU. If we add severe economic challenges, a migration crisis, which politically is difficult to handle, and the fear of terrorist attacks, European integration risks stopping up or even going in reverse. However, realistically, I do not see the developments leading to a break-up of the EU, yet it is difficult (impossible) to predict what will take place in the short- and medium term. We might see changes in the Schengen Agreement and other policies, but most current challenges asks for more collective action, not less, which will put brakes on the drive to break-up or profound changes in todays EU. However, if FN should become really strong in France and the UK leave the EU, the situation would be dramatically changed.

Eddy Fougier, Political Analyst and Research Associate, Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS)

To answer your question, we could consider three kinds of situation.

(1) Sunday, the National Front win 1, 2 or maybe 3 regions. In France, the regions’ powers are not very big. But the new FN leadership of these regions have the ability to cause trouble especially as these regions have borders with other EU member countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy) et to create a show of force on specific issues with European institutions, like the European Commission. In the North of France, a city like Calais is for example at the heart of the current migrants crisis. Lots of migrants are in Calais because they want to cross the Channel to join Great-Britain. Marine Le Pen gained 49% of the votes in Calais. So the expulsion of thousands of migrants in Calais by Marine Le Pen at the head of the region would certainly be a good “stress test” of her anti-european policy and provoke an important crisis with Brussels.

(2) 2017, Marine Le Pen is not the next French president, but the president, especially if it is Nicolas Sarkozy, will be obliged to endorse an anti-european stance on issues like Schengen or the free movement inside the EU if he want to win this election. France could be more “souverainiste” and self-centered in a context where Germany could be weakened by its current position on migrant crisis and by the fact that security issues could be at the top of european agenda (with terrorist threats and a military intervention in Syria against Daesh).

(3) 2017, Marine Le Pen is elected as French president. It would certainly be the end of the EU as we know it because France is not Greece. It is one of the founder members and the 2d or 3d economy of the EU. This could provoke a huge crisis in the “franco-german couple”, and the withdrawal of the UK from the EU and maybe of other countries. It would be a major crisis of the EU and the end of the european dream with the victory in France of its main historical enemy. This is an apocalyptic scenario but since first round of regional elections, we know that it is possible to have such a scenario.

John Keiger, Professor, Department of International Studies (POLIS), University of Cambridge

As to your question on the impressive score of Marine Le Pen’s Front National (28%)in the first round of the regional elections and what possible impact this may have on the EU, I would make a few points:

1) This is only the first round of the regional elections in which the Front National has scored some 28% of the vote. The second round on Sunday will probably see the FN win 3 regions of the 13, but it could win more. Nobody is clear how voters will react in the second round.

2) Most observers believe this success is not merely due to 13 November terrorist attacks, but is a trend well under way over the last few years

3) Whatever happens this will set up Marine Le Pen for a potential victory in the 2017 presidential elections

So what will be the impact on the EU?

1) In the short term. Although the FN’s position on the EU is softening a little of late, with them stating that they might not withdraw outright, but might seek to renegotiate important aspects of French membership: Schengen, Euro, trade barriers etc, this will have an impact on other parties and perhaps on the present Socialist administration. As Europe is not popular amongst many French voters at present this could stiffen France’s position in relation to Europe and certainly to any more integration. It is likely to affect European policies on immigration, Schengen as well as the Euro, which is seen as a cause of France’s high unemployment, particularly by the FN.

2) In the longer term. A particular aspect of the FN’s success is that it appeals to French youth (18-25yrs) which is experiencing 25% unemployment and the prospect of having to reimburse France’s public debt for the foreseeable future. If the young follow the FN line of blaming the EU then this could see French support for the EU being undermined in the longer term.

3) The prospect of a major founding member such as France becoming fiercely Eurosceptic could unleash similar feelings amongst other nations, who would feel they had a green light to renegotiate their membership terms with Europe. It could also lead to whole blocs of countries joining together to lobby for reforms that could undermine large tracts of current EU structural legislation. If pursued to the end it could see certain states leave the EU, as is threatened by certain British politicians and organisations.

Jonah Levy, Associate Professor, Vice-Chair of the Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

I think that a lot depends on the form that Marine Le Pen’s influence takes. If she wins the presidential election in 2017, then she might well carry out her threats to withdraw France from international organizations, such as NATO and the Eurozone. If Le Pen does not win the presidential election, but strikes some kind of alliance with the Republicans of Nicolas Sarkozy, then she and the mainstream Right will have to cut a deal. Looking around Europe, in countries where other radical Right parties have been part of the governing coalition, the deal has generally taken the form of support by the radical Right of the austerity, welfare retrenchment, and tax cuts favored by the mainstream Right in return for support by the mainstream Right of the restrictions on immigration and naturalization as well as hardline assimilationist policies (e.g. headscarf bans in universities or public places more generally) favored by the radical Right.

Rainbow MurrayReader in Politics at Queen Mary, University of London

I do not see any immediate threat here.  Most FN voters are not motivated directly by anti-EU sentiment but rather by fear (of terrorism, immigration etc), hardship (unemployment remains stubbornly high in France), and frustration with the mainstream parties.  The political mainstream, which still has the support of the majority of the electorate, remains firmly committed to Europe.  Anti-European discourse has not been a major feature of French political debate and I do not anticipate that this will change in light of the regional election results (or, indeed, in light of a possible Brexit).
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  1. […] Will Marine Le Pen apocalyptically change France, Europe? […]

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