With France a key cog in the EU and early favorite Marie Le Pen threatening to remove France from the EU if elected, the stage was set for the very real possibility that the European Union would be no longer, says Leverate’s Adinah Brown
Think of France and you think of baguettes, croissants, sitting in a patisserie, walking along the Champs Elysees, the Eiffel tower, Notre-Dame. The style, the sophistication, an impossibly well dressed populace, a greeting with kisses on both cheeks.
For years, France had led the way in glamour and sophistication in Europe and even the world. And for those of us with little less refined tastes, France still offers a variety of things to get excited about, like the beaches of Cannes, soccer star and poet Eric Cantona, French foods like French fries, and even a classy way of saying ‘threesomes’.
But in recent months France has been the political climate that has been at the forefront of the media. The most recent French presidential elections were surrounded by a tumultuous set of circumstances that had the real potential to break up the European Union.
The recent spread of populist, Anti-EU parties throughout Europe and the recent Brexit referendum showed that the breakup of Europe was possible. With France a key cog in the EU and early favorite Marie Le Pen threatening to remove France from the EU if elected, the stage was set for the very real possibility that the European Union would be no longer.
Markets reacted strongly, with significant capital flow towards the stronger EU economies from the weaker EU countries. The Euro suffered from significant volatility as did European share markets.
Doomsdayers on both sides howled at the moon and predicted the end of the world as we know it. The final head to head between Emmanuel Macron and Marie Le Pen was watched keenly by the global community and the world’s markets.
Ultimately Macron was the victor, with the effect of stabilising markets immediately that had been driven by the fear of an EU breakup if Le Pen were victorious.
Interestingly, Macron’s platform was the complete opposite. From his victory speech to the strains of Beethoven’s “Ode to joy”, the anthem of the EU, he stated his desire to integrate France further into the EU.
But, whilst markets fell in line at the news that Le Pen’s loss meant that France would continue with the EU, there remains a strong popular desire amongst her supporters for breaking from the EU.
An election between such two radically different platforms highlights the reality that there is a deep schism within the French populace towards the EU. Two of the key issues, youth unemployment and terrorism, were cleverly blamed on the EU by Le Pen. Whether this is the case, these are not the kinds of issues that will easily recede into the background.
And, with movements towards strengthening EU ties now on the cards, there is the sense that there will be much unrest as the country moves forward after the election.
What was seen as a significant victory for the EU, is also the beginning of many challenges for France. France is far from a united country, and will have to deal with serious internal issues before support for the EU is likely to change.
With so many existential crises surrounding the EU in recent times and so many premature reports of its demise ringing in our ears, it is up to the leaders to show strong leadership domestically if they want to turn the tide toward prolonging the EU.
France is a fascinating test case of the real domestic issues facing the EU member states, and its short term political actions will show clearly where the will of the populace lies.