John Keiger

What a Le Pen win would mean for Brussels

What a Le Pen win would mean for Brussels
(Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
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A Marine Le Pen victory in a year's time can no longer be ruled out. Other than opinion polls regularly pointing to her place in the second round as a certainty, a few, such as Harris Interactive on 7 March, put her on the cusp of winning the second round with 47 per cent to Macron’s 53 per cent — a dramatic improvement on her 2017 score of 34 to Macron’s 66. 

The traditional republican front against the radical right is crumbling and the stigma of voting Le Pen is diminishing. More of the electorate are coming round to the Rassemblement National’s views on national sovereignty, immigration, crime and security, and — with Brussels’s shambolic management of the pandemic — on the EU itself. Whether Marine wins in 2022 or not, the world’s leading powers will, or should, be gaming the scenarios. And the international organisation with the most to lose is the EU. The RN abandoned Frexit after the last presidential race but the party remains deeply Eurosceptic. It became France’s largest party in the 2019 European elections on a manifesto entitled: 'For a Europe of nations and peoples'. So what would be the state of relations between Marine Le Pen's France and the EU?

One must preface any Le Pen victory with two remarks. First, her triumph can only be effective if bolstered by a majority in the parliamentary elections that normally follow in June. The number of RN MPs elected will determine how radical the new President’s reforms can be. Despite Marine Le Pen garnering nearly 11 million votes in the 2017 presidential race, the two-round June legislatives gave her party a mere seven députés. But let’s say for practical purposes the RN gets a clear parliamentary majority.

Second, some French civil servants may resign out of principle. The stigma of those who slipped from the Third Republic into Vichy casts a long shadow, no matter how different the scenario. But given the French already operate a semi-‘spoils system’ on changes of governing majority, this will provoke little turmoil, particularly as Marine will wish to discard some mandarins whose views are not compliant.

Relations between a Marine Le Pen France and Brussels will be severely shaken on process and policy. The traditional cosy French relationship with Brussels, fostered by shared educational backgrounds in those Europhile nurseries of the French mandarin class, Sciences Po and the ENA, will be impaired. The RN will struggle to staff its ministries with like-minded highly competent civil servants able to counter Brussels's bureaucratic politics, let alone change policies. 

Doubtless, the new French administration will cry foul and incriminate France’s europhile deep state, but process will also be leadened from the Brussels end. If, as Jacques Delors predicted, 80 per cent of French laws originate in Brussels, eurocrats will have ample opportunity to grind policy change to a minimum before resorting to the European Court of Justice. A cold war between France and the Berlaymont will make Brexit seem amicable.

Then there is the question of how member states will react to this newly led France. EU fault lines will deepen. Marine Le Pen will find support from the likes of Poland, Hungary, Austria, but considerable opposition from Germany and the liberal states. The Franco-German motor of deeper integration will seize up.

But it is on policy that open warfare will be fought. The RN’s 76-page ‘Manifesto for the European Alliance of Nations’ calls for a radical overhaul of EU institutions, including the bombshell abolition of the European Commission. Then there is the prioritisation of national rights over European legislation, reform of immigration, the Schengen system of open borders and the devolution of common agricultural policy to nation states. While still viewing the euro as a ‘millstone’, Marine Le Pen declared in January 2019 that abandoning the euro was ‘no longer a priority’. Nevertheless the RN calls for increased national central bank powers, notably to control national debt, rather than the arbitrary EU ratio of 60 per cent debt to GDP.

In the event of a Marine Le Pen victory, Brussels may regret the RN's abandonment of Frexit. The prospect of a hostile France constantly at loggerheads with Brussels would be a ruinous blow to the EU rendering Brexit almost quaint.