Is France heading for a revolution? If she wins the upcoming French presidential elections, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, has pledged to hold a referendum on membership of the European Union. Hot on the heels of Brexit, some commentators are warning that ‘Frexit’ is no longer inconceivable… and that it could spell the end of the EU.
At this stage, it seems likely that Le Pen will make it to through the first round of voting. However, few are predicting that she will go on to win the presidency because voters on the left and the right will probably join forces to defeat her in the second round. On the other hand, this has been one of the most unusual elections in recent French political history, with several unexpected twists and turns. Could Frexit be next?
We had a comment from Madeleine, who thinks we should all calm down. She’s highly sceptical that Marine Le Pen would really be able to stage her promised referendum even if she won. Madeleine points out that the Front National currently has only 2 MPs in parliament, and that it would be “difficult for her to do anything without a majority at the National Assembly. So she won’t change things…”
To get a response, we put this comment to Joseph Downing, an expert in French nationalism and identity, an Associate at the London School of Economic’s European Institute and a Marie Curie Fellow at Aix-Marseille University in France. Did he agree with Madelein’s comment?
Yes, I think this is one of the things we often underplay when there are these kind of salacious campaigns. A little bit like Brexit, to be honest, and Donald Trump; I mean, how many days are we into Donald Trump’s presidency? He hasn’t repealed Obamacare; there is no wall along the Mexican border. All of these things he’s promised he basically can’t really deliver on, and the thing with Le Pen is that she can promise domestically to take France out of the Euro, she can promise to cut back the power of Brussels, to cut back on immigration, and to hold a referendum on France’s membership of the EU, but France is not electing a dictator. There are checks and balances on power, and there is quite a diverse National Assembly that represents different voices. Even people on the right in France are not necessarily eurosceptic, nor people on the far left. It’s a much more complex picture. So, Madeleine is actually bang on there with that comment.
However, on the other hand, I think there is an underestimation of the level of euroscepticism in France… I was there when the Brexit result came out and a lot of people were saying to us ‘Oh, yes, Britain’s done a great thing, and the eurocrats are corrupt and all they do is take our money‘. And also there’s a lot of everyday euroscepticism about the euro and how people feel it’s reduced their purchasing power. So, there is definitely an issue there. But whether or not it is something that will translate into political action is a different story…
For another perspective, we also took Madeleine’s comment to Guillaume Liegey, a European Young Leader 2014 and co-founder of Liegey Muller Pons, a political strategy firm that has been working with the campaign of Emmanuel Macron. What would he say?
I think that, absolutely, if you’re the president you need a majority at the National Assembly, especially if you want to push for a kind of revolutionary agenda; which, if she wanted to leave the European Union it would certainly be a very big change. So, I think two things: Yes, it’s improbable that the FN will have a majority, even if Le Pen is president. Though, it could be possible that some of the conservative MPs would support her on some projects. That’s one thing.
The second is that there’s still a majority of French people who support the European Union. So, in any case, it would be a tough fight and you would have to go through a referendum in addition to being voted by parliament. So, I think that would be a tough sell for her. But, yes, I agree agree with you that it is very hard for a French presdient to govern without a majority. But even if you don’t have a majority you can still try to form alliances on a case-by-case basis.
Finally, we put Madeleine’s comment to Clémentine Forissier, a European Young Leader 2015-2016 and Editor-in-Chief of Contexte, an online newspaper focusing on French and European public policy. How would she reply?
If she won the election, Marin Le Pen wouldn’t need a majority at the National Assembly to organise a referendum. She could do it by herself, because she would be the president. It is in Article 11 of our constitution. If she wanted to organise a referendum, she could do it…
It’s also important to point out that none of the candidates in the election can be sure to get a majority to govern. It’s not just Marine Le Pen. If you look at François Fillon, Emmanuel Macron, or Benoît Hamon, our political parties are in a mess on both the right- and left-side of the political spectrum. Emmanuel Macron has the centre, but we don’t really know who’s going to vote for him in the legislative elections. So, it’s not sure at all he will have a majority…
What I can say is that if Le Pen wins the election, it will start a long and hard period of uncertainty, that’s for sure. And the outcome will be bad for France.
Could France hold a referendum on EU membership? Or is the threat of ‘Frexit’ being overstated? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!