Will the Eurosceptic French presidential candidates destroy the dreams of the European Union?
Let’s take a look at what kind of Europe the presidential candidates stand for. Spoiler alert: there is bad news for people who support European integration.
The political parties in France are once again divided on the issue of Europe. For over thirty years, the sovereignist and federalist parties have opposed each other on the issue.
This dichotomy has internally divided the right and left parties since 1992. That year, a referendum allowed the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union. Then, in 2005, the French said no to the Treaty establishing a European Constitution. Finally, in 2012, President François Hollande ratified the European Fiscal Compact, which he had promised to block. President Hollande then faced fierce opposition within his own party. Emmanuel Macron was one of Hollande’s ministers most supportive of European integration. He then decided to run for president. And he won thanks to a campaign that emphasised the need to deepen the European integration process.
What does that look like today? What kind of Europe do the presidential candidates stand for? Let’s take a look.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise, left-wing populism)
While Mélenchon advocated France leaving the EU in 2017, his position is more nuanced today. Still, it is not much different than before. Mélenchon wants to defy European rules whenever necessary. That is why he proposes a “concerted” break with the current treaties.
In his “Plan A,” he envisions the restoration of budgetary sovereignty and environmental protectionism. He also wants to change the status of the European Central Bank. Should he not find broad support for changing the rules, there would be a “Plan B.” France would then immediately implement Mélenchon’s policies at the national level.
“President” Mélenchon would begin a confrontation with the European institutions to enforce his position in the European Council. Meanwhile, France would use its veto power to reject any new free trade agreement or enlargement without social, fiscal, and environmental harmonization. Mélenchon would also unilaterally opt-out of implementing standards that are incompatible with France’s environmental and social commitments. He would use the opt-out to suspend France’s participation in certain programs, such as Denmark, Sweden, and Ireland did. The opt-out is an instrument negotiated with the other member states. So, it would be up to the other EU members to accept France’s opt-out. That is quite difficult.
Even though the manifesto is more nuanced about Europe than the 2017 one, the consequences seem to be the same. And it would amount to France leaving the European Union. President Mélenchon might also abandon his hawkish stance. But he would be embarking on a five-year political struggle that would weaken France and Europe.
Fabien Roussel (French Communist Party, far-left)
Roussel supports the end of the Stability Pact. As president, he would initiate a debate on breaking with the current European treaties to build a new European Union. According to the manifesto, France would convene a debt conference “to refuse to make the population pay for Covid-19’s debts.” He would put an end to the independence of the European Central Bank to place it under the “democratic control of nation-states and the people.” He would propose refounding the euro and advocate a “multi-speed” Europe. Fabien Roussel also wants to “reindustrialize” France and “produce in France.” How he intends to achieve this as president is not explained.
Yannick Jadot (The Greens, center-left)
The Greens have strong federalist positions. Their presidential candidate believes that the European Union must be strengthened to become “more democratic, closer to its citizens, but also less bureaucratic, more functional and more efficient.” For this reason, the Greens advocate electing the European Parliament with a mix of transnational and national lists. Jadot wants to abolish unanimity in the EU Council in all areas where such clauses exist (e.g., social policy and taxation).
What interests the Greens most is Europe’s role in addressing environmental challenges, such as climate change. The Greens believe that “no government is capable of meeting the environmental challenge alone” and that Europe “is an indispensable instrument for action.” Therefore, they aim to increase Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and make the EU carbon-neutral by 2040. To achieve this goal, they propose a European budget to finance the energy transition. They support a European environmental treaty to give greater legal priority to protecting the environment.
Anne Hidalgo (Socialist Party, center-left)
The Socialist Party (Ps), like the Greens, also holds federalist positions, in contrast to those of Mélenchon and Roussel. The Ps argues that “Europe is the instrument” of French sovereignty and “a powerful asset for controlling our future in the face of the major challenges” such as climate change and the biodiversity crisis.
However, French Socialist presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo opposes a return to the Stability Pact. She believes that the European budget rules should no longer lead to austerity and be an obstacle to the environmental transition and future investment. She also believes that the EU should be provided with new own resources to strengthen its budget.
Where should these funds come from? She advocates a tax on financial transactions and on digital giants, a carbon levy at the EU borders, VAT, and a corporate tax. She also proposes a complete overhaul of European trade policy: any trade agreement between the EU and another country should respect social and environmental criteria.
Valérie Pécresse (The Republicans, center-right)
Pécresse is especially critical of Emmanuel Macron’s “supranational vision.” She argues for more French sovereignty with regard to European rules. She questions the primacy of European law over the “constitutional identities” of EU member states. In particular, she explained her strategy during a visit to the Samos migrant camp in Greece. She sees the security fences as an “example” of the policy of “humanity” and “determination” she advocates on the immigration issue.
“We cannot have a sieve-like Europe,” she said during her visit. She does not want a “Fortress Europe,” but neither does she want a “Supermarket Europe.” To this end, if elected, she wants to create an alliance between all border countries.
What is clear is that the center-right party today has an ambivalent relationship with the European Union, which it considers indispensable but which it regularly accuses of all evils. This is the price center-right must pay to prevent those voters from leaving the party and joining the far right.
Éric Zemmour (Reconquest, far-right)
Zemmour supports the project of a “Europe of nations” in which member states are fully sovereign, and thus more powerful, and work together in harmony. In his “France-first” manifesto, he opposes leaving the euro or the European Union. As for the single currency, he believes that “joining the euro was a bad idea, but leaving would be even worse.” He strongly defends the primacy of national law over European law and the restoration of national borders.
Immigration is the one area where he believes Europe is important. Europe, he believes, is necessary to stop immigration and prevent the “Great Replacement” of the European (white and Christian) populations. Anticipating the difficulties of such reforms, he simply announced that he “will not respect Schengen.”
Zemmour also intends to restore French law primacy over European law by revising Article 55 of the Constitution. He aims to restore “the original principle of European construction, namely the principle of subsidiarity.” Aware of the possibility that sanctions could be imposed on France if it violates supranational law, he has promised to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, “if necessary.”
He opposes any expansion of the European Union. He wants to prevent “the Commission from endlessly expanding its powers outside the treaties.” And he criticizes the European Union, which “is not a nation,” for imposing “Western progressivism” on countries like Hungary and Poland. Éric Zemmour’s discourse on Europe more or less corresponds to the classic identitarian vision of the French nationalist right and far-right.
Marine Le Pen (National Rally, far-right)
After her defeat in the 2017 presidential election, Marine Le Pen has renewed her discourse on Europe. She has abandoned her plan to leave the euro. Now she is trying to win over voters who were troubled by her earlier Euroskeptic positions. Le Pen supports a “Europe of free nations,” “a space of partnership between free and independent” nations.
If elected, her priority would be to “reindustrialize” Europe. On the one hand, she wants to define “a preference for the French in terms of social benefits and training”; on the other hand, she wants to involve “the great European champions” of industry. Therefore, she wants to deprive the Commission of some of its “unconstitutional” powers in order to restore the sovereignty of nations.
Le Pen also said that any national law should be above European law. France, she said, “must once again become the political leader of countries that disagree with the dogmas of the European Union.” Her allies would be the Polish and Hungarian governments.
She also proposes “a referendum on immigration in which, in the event of constitutional reform, it would be clearly stated that the Constitution is legally superior to all international sources of law. Again, like Mélenchon, Roussel or Zemmour, she would start a five-year political struggle between France and Europe.