Is Macron’s gamble France’s Brexit moment?

    WORLD  15 June 2024 - 03:05

    Politico carries an article about the most destructive national election in the 70-year history of the European project, Caliber.Az reprints the article.  

    Ursula von der Leyen wants French people to eat insects. Says who? Marine Le Pen said so.

    Officially, Le Pen has abandoned the extreme strains of Brussels-bashing cultivated by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a Holocaust denier who was the founder of her far-right National Rally party. She no longer advocates for Frexit or the revival of the French franc.

    In truth, she and her de facto No. 2, Jordan Bardella, surfed to triumph in the European election with, among other things, a deceitful form of Europhobia. They exploited a hazy knowledge of European affairs among even the pro-European part of the French electorate.

    As a Briton who has lived in France for 27 years, I have a chilling sense of that old English expression “déjà vu.” The British tabloid press and the right wing of the Conservative party prepared the ground for Brexit with a similar campaign of denigration, lies and baseless claims that Britain would thrive if freed from the deadweight of European law.

    Eight years after the Brexit vote, 55 percent of Britons think that they made a mistake and only 31 percent still think the UK is better off outside the European Union. Strangely, Brexit — hailed as a freedom movement by Le Pen at the time — was never mentioned by the National Rally during the European election.

    Some officials in Brussels refer to President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call a snap parliamentary election as France’s “Brexit moment.” Macron’s hazardous decision to confront Le Pen is, they say, as foolish as the former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempt to face down Brexiteers in a referendum in June 2016. 

    Rather than destroying the threat from the right with an audacious vote, the danger is that the French vote — like the U.K. referendum — will simply spark years of political and economic recriminations.

    The comparison is, in one respect, false. In European terms, the French election is far more important. This could be the most destructive national election in the 70-year history of the European project.  

    Bardella’s European election manifesto called for the replacement of the law-based, supranational union by “freely agreed cooperation between member states, according to their interests and comparative advantages.”  

    This is a project that British Brexiteers could defend, masquerading as EU reform. It is a revival of the old idea of a loose association of states which was rejected by the six founding members, including France, in the 1950s.

    The single market would be maintained in theory, but destroyed in practise by allowing national preference (i.e. protectionism) in agriculture and public procurement.  

    Le Pen wants frontiers between EU countries to be revived for citizens of “non-Schengen countries,” everyone from British and American tourists to undocumented immigrants. This is a logical nonsense. How can frontiers be enforced without impeding freedom of movement for EU citizens? They can’t.

    Bardella’s manifesto wants to “give the French their money back” by cutting part of France’s contribution to Brussels. It omits to mention that this money is legally and constitutionally the property (own resources) of the EU. To withhold EU funds would need a change in the French constitution or an act of legal disobedience by a future Bardella-Le Pen government. 

    And the insects?

    Bardella and Le Pen speeches are littered with the kind of anti-EU propaganda with which British tabloids prepared the collective U.K. mind for Brexit. In March, Le Pen said in a speech that the European Commission wanted to replace the beef on French dinner plates with insects.

    She conflated an EU report on falling beef sales with a Brussels decision to allow imports of insect paste from Asia for marginal use in some processed foods.

    That piece of charlatanry was picked up by fact-checkers in the French media. By comparison, the RN’s sweeping claims that it can painlessly  “reform” the EU have gone largely unchallenged (with the radio commentator Patrick Cohen an honorable exception).

    The Brexiteers told many small lies but at least they were honest about their aim; they wanted to leave the EU. Le Pen and Bardella are selling the French public a Big Lie. Or two Big Lies.

    The first is that a loose collection of states would have the same economic power and benefits as the law-based EU and single market.

    The second is that a National Rally government could somehow decree these “reforms.”  They would have to be negotiated with 26 other countries or they would have to be imposed illegally.

    Le Pen and Bardella could do enormous damage in a very short time. Faced with a far-right government, Macron would retain constitutional powers over Europe, foreign policy and defense. But he could not force a National Assembly with a far-right majority to find money to support Ukraine or back the emerging plans for a vast EU joint-borrowing program for military investment.

    Amputating the British limb left the EU sadly disabled. A de facto defection from the European project by a large and central founding state like France could be “mortal” (to use Emmanuel Macron’s expression).

    Why on earth then did Macron take the risk of a Le Pen-Bardella government? All the fury in Brussels this week is aimed at Macron, not Le Pen. 

    The Macron camp argues that the Le Pen lies needed to be confronted sooner or later. The European election became a referendum on Macron; they want the national election to be a referendum on, inter alia, Le Pen’s hidden agenda on Russia, Ukraine and the EU.

    Those arguments fell on deaf ears during the European campaign and may do so again. Le Pen and Bardella know that a majority of French voters are vaguely pro-EU. They also know that, like British voters, they are ill-informed on Europe and easily bamboozled. 

    Caliber.Az

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