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The EU holds its breath with France

FRANCE’s President Emmanuel Macron smiles before taking part in a European summit in Brussels. / ef

Brussels fears for an eventual victory of Le Pen; would weaken internal cohesion and reduce the international weight of the bloc

“What is being celebrated is a referendum for or against Europe.” It escapes no one’s notice that this warning from Emmanuel Macron, repeated ad nauseam in the campaign, is not trivial. Sifting through the implicit opportunism of any message launched in the electoral battle, the EU is clear that one of its most pro-European leaders is not just talking. Macron believes in Europe, he has been running to take the throne from Angela Merkel and, explicitly, he has been leading it since January with France in the rotating presidency of the European Council – something that had not happened in fourteen years – and an ambitious work plan that seeks to deepen the international sovereignty of the bloc. So there is no doubt; a possible arrival today at the Elysee of her rival, the extreme right-wing Marine Le Pen, would confront the common project with a new identity crisis.

A kind of ‘tsunami’ at a critical moment: with a war on its way to rest induced by an unpredictable autocratic leader. That it has not only frustrated the post-covid economic recovery roadmap; It has also placed the block before the embarrassment of an absolute energy dependency that is forcing it to reinvent itself against the clock. And in the face of the reinforced uncertainty that the traditional internal divergences (Twenty-seven different sensitivities) generate new anxiety.

Not that a ‘Frexit’ (a new spin-off scenario) worries. That is not on the table. What is worrying is another strategy, that of the ‘Trojan horse’: entering to blow up the EU as we know it. It is the tactic that the different currents of the extreme right have been betting on for years in the face of at least three pieces of evidence: the ‘slam’ per se subtracts votes; the exit process is highly complex; and there is a risk of chaos and real freezing outside the common market. Lessons learned from ‘Brexit’.

So Le Pen –unlike what she did in 2017– has banished rupture from her electoral program (and with it the idea of ​​taking France out of the euro). She has been fed up with moderation and her softened speech, together with the domestic exhaustion generated by the figure of Macron, has allowed her to close the gap like never before – the polls give the current president the victory, yes, but with 56% of the votes compared to 44 % of the far right–. The short margin transmits insecurity; there is fear of the earthquake.

Because Le Pen’s dialectic is for opponents and analysts just a thin wrapper that neither attenuates his declared Euroscepticism nor the objective he pursues: to cement a membership in the charter. In this campaign he has not used the term ‘destroy’ (if he did five years ago). He has euphemistically spoken of ‘changing’, ‘reforming’ ‘the EU from within’. Which translates into weakening cohesion and, consequently, reducing its international weight. A plan that, although it would require him to obtain a parliamentary majority in the elections that the country will hold in June, already augurs darkness.

The second contributor

Part by part. France is not the UK. It is a member of historical European conviction. Promoter of the common project since 1958 and founding member of what ended up becoming the current European Union. Since March 1995 it has been in the Schengen Area and in the euro since its training on January 1, 1999. The second economic power in Europe and, with Germany, the pillar of the project.

Net contributor of vital importance to the EU. The spending allocated to the general budget – set by the equity rule based on its resources – exceeds 20,000 million euros, which represents 0.85% of its economy. It receives 14,778 million, 0.61% of its weight. It is also one of the countries with the highest representation in the European Parliament and is committed to developing closer cooperation with Berlin, as well as with partners “with the capacity and willingness to advance in the European challenge”, it is underlined from Paris.

In the field of effectiveness, Macron (and by extension France) played a fundamental role in achieving the Recovery Fund; the mobilization of the 750,000 million anticovid euros (with the largest joint debt issue in history) which, together with the multi-annual budget (2021-2027), has become a true exercise in solidarity towards greater integration. Has the EU come out of the well-known spiral of existential crises?

The keys

  • No frexit
    The ‘Trojan horse’ strategy: dynamite from within. The far-right speaks of “reforming”

  • new caps
    The already known internal differences would be intensified with the ‘ultra’ leader in the Eliseo

  • tracking
    A priori only Hungary and Poland, in permanent conflict with Brussels, would welcome him

Half. The war in Ukraine has displayed the same current of unity – with very few exceptions, read Hungary – without precedent. Until the strategy of isolating Russia and the barrage of sanctions has required advancing to the oil and gas veto box. Here Germany (which covers 45% of its needs with the provision of Gazprom) is pulling the handbrake. And Paris is pressing in the opposite direction, but with a lot of diplomacy so as not to crack the Franco-German axis. In any case, clash of sensibilities. That seems to have been resolved, by the way, with a Solomonic solution announced on Friday: that each State set its times for the veto.

Different from what is noticed if Le Pen arrived at the Elysee. That would be another existential crisis. The leader of Rassemblement National (National Group) «wants to drastically reduce the decision-making power of the EU, control who can travel freely within the community territory and withdraw from some of the Union’s trade and energy agreements. She could veto new sanctions against Russia and oppose any further military support for Ukraine », explains Georgina Wright, director of the Europe program of the think tank at the Montaigne Institute in Paris. “It is difficult to see how the EU could adopt these reforms without gradually disintegrating. A ‘Frexit’, but unlike Brexit, a slow and messy withdrawal », she adds.

unknowns that worry

From there, countless unknowns arise: How many times would France exercise its right to veto? Would it break with the European inertia of seeking consensus? Would you maintain the same contributory effort? A handful of doubts among the many that are planned in Brussels, the heart of the community, and which is systematically the focus of attacks by far-right politicians (that of ‘finishing’ the Brussels bureaucrats) who are blamed for the thousand evils .

And even ‘sewer’ strategies. Recently Le Pen herself – who was a MEP – has thus judged the conclusions of a report by the European anti-fraud unit (OLAF), which accuses her of embezzling funds and requires her to return 137,000 euros. “I am used to the traps of the European Union, to its low blows,” she reacted after denying the accusation.

in your context

  • 1958
    Since that year, France has been involved in the project of building Europe. The European Economic Community was created, establishing close cooperation with five other countries: Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

  • The milestone of the Recovery Fund
    The role of FRance was decisive in the largest joint debt issue in its history to finance the 750,000 million anticovid euros. Paris and Berlin made possible a formulation that includes the provision of direct grants and not just low-interest loans.

  • 20,000
    millions of euros per year make the Gallic country the second net contributor, after Germany. This means that it contributes more to multi-annual budgets (seven years) than it receives.

The shock wave of a France pushed by the reactionary right would be welcome in at least two governments with which Le Pen is in tune: Hungary and Poland; Viktor Orban and Mateusz Morawiecki. He knows both leaders and maintains a good relationship with them. And he supports his idea of ​​imposing the primacy of national law over community law, one of the fundamental principles of the EU legal system.

Uncomfortable partners, bastions of that Central European political alliance (with the Czech Republic and Slovakia) known as the Visegrad Group, Hungary and Poland have endless files open with Brussels. And they face a de facto blockade of transfers from the Recovery Fund due to their authoritarian drift (judicial independence, fundamental rights…).

If they have already been characterized by putting spokes in the wheel in many summits –they threatened to block the green light for the payments of the Recovery Plan because they were conditioned to respect the Rule of Law). With an ‘ultra’ France they would have an ally. Or maybe not. The war in Ukraine has driven a wedge between these two traditional partners—Budapest is in tune with Putin, Warsaw is not. And then there is the purely economic derivative. Both are net recipients of European funds. What if Le Pen fulfilled his threat to contribute less? That would no longer be so convenient. In any case, it’s time to hold your breath.

Paris promotes the objective of Europe developing its full autonomy in defense

“The President of the French Republic and the French Government have been building real European sovereignty for four years, that is, a capacity to exist in today’s world defending the values ​​and interests of Europe.” This is one of the phrases with the greatest depth that is included in the program of the French presidency of the European Union; which started by focusing on joint defense, environmental transition and a Russia that, at that time (in January) had not yet surprised the world with its onslaught on Ukraine.

The invasion has reinforced the pursuit of the main achievement that Macron marked for himself for the six months of French leadership of the European Council. Since his arrival at the Elysée in 2017, the Frenchman has continuously insisted on the need for the EU to raise a renewed security architecture that, without colliding with NATO, is typical of Europe.

Without looking at Washington

This is what has been defined as «strategic autonomy», which in a clear reading means being an entity with its own personality that does not have to attend to the whims of Washington. That already forced the EU to make a fool of itself with the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August of last year.

With this premise, the EU has been working for a long time on the ‘strategic compass’ to develop this common defense which, for the time being, has materialized in an increase in military capacity with the possibility of creating a force that allows the deployment of up to five thousand European troops quickly in the next three years. At the moment there is no talk of a European army per se. Although it may be your seed.

Together with France and Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal and even the United Kingdom have joined the initiative championed by the Elysee to improve the capacity of Europeans “to carry out military operations and missions jointly in a multilateral context.

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