France elections: EU at arm's length

French election leaflets The final week of campaigning is in full swing ahead of Sunday's vote

Elections take the pulse of a nation. They force leaders and candidates to address the concerns of the people who will hire and fire them. So with the French elections and Europe.

If the polls are right more than 30% of the French electorate will vote on Sunday for candidates who are openly hostile or critical of the EU. The far-right candidate Marine Le Pen wants to take France out of the euro. She believes that the European Union has not protected French jobs.

The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon appeals to many of the same blue-collar voters as Ms Le Pen. He fundamentally disagrees with the Berlin/Brussels approach to austerity. On the recent pact that enforces budgetary discipline in the eurozone he would put that to a plebiscite.

Mr Melenchon, far from accepting targets to rein in the French budget, would boost spending without looking over his shoulder at Brussels.

The Socialist candidate Francois Hollande - and the favourite to be the next French president - challenges what has become the German orthodoxy. He believes the focus must move away from austerity to growth. He is likely to challenge German leadership in the eurozone crisis. So - realistically or not - he would spend billions on hiring new teachers, on training young people and finding them jobs.

Mr Hollande will also try and renegotiate the pact enforcing budgetary discipline over eurozone budgets, although the expectation is that he might settle for an understanding on growth rather than opening up the whole negotiations again.

At the start of the campaign President Sarkozy was all for having German Chancellor Angela Merkel campaigning for him. You do not hear that anymore. The French president - on the stump - is now distancing himself from Berlin.

On Sunday he broke an agreement with Chancellor Merkel not to question the role of the European Central Bank. He and Chancellor Merkel had disagreed about it in the past. The French want the bank to act more aggressively, to relieve pressure on troubled governments and to pay more attention to growth.

The Germans will not countenance anything that in their view compromises the independence of the bank. President Sarkozy now favours changing the rules set out in the Treaty of Maastricht, to give the bank more flexibility. The Germans dismiss that as electioneering, but the president believes "there is a major problem for the future of Europe" in the way the bank operates. Under the treaty's no bailout clause the ECB is not supposed to buy debt directly from eurozone states.

Even though President Sarkozy accepts France must bring down its debts - and lambasts his main opponent for planning a festival of spending - he too has become an open doubter about austerity. "If Europe chooses deflation," he said at the weekend, "she will disappear".

On the campaign trail President Sarkozy has said he will freeze contributions to the EU budget; he will suspend membership of the Schengen agreement, which guarantees free movement of people in the EU, unless Europe's borders are better defended against immigration; and he openly favours a "Buy European Act", which would be strongly opposed by the European Commission.

In recent months Chancellor Merkel has been speaking of the need for "more Europe". She has taken to dropping into speeches the prospect of a political union. That would be a massive step, but none of this is mentioned at election time in France. There are no votes in a more closely united Europe.

The votes lie - and all candidates seem to recognise this - in France having greater control of its own affairs. As Francois Hollande said, "we are a great nation, a great country, whose choices are not made by the heads of state or governments of countries that are friendly but external to our democracy". That is the pitch at election time in France.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    We brought our young 'into the world'... to care for it, and each other

    Even if 'we old' cannot yet share our 'treasures in the bank', our disgraceful IOUs, forged in our children's names...

    At least let each new generation, each cohort, have 'their share of today', to share equally amongst themselves, in full employment, to reach for their shared dream of individual fulfilment for all

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    The young, must learn 'our lesson', so pitifully disgracefully 'told', in gasps of horror: to look at the bottom line, not just sign

    Not 'in it together', then to sign is to lose, inevitably crushingly to lose

    Mankind the victim, and no real 'winners', under the 'protection' of Mammon

    Meanwhile, phoney debates: who can 'gather' the most sheep, most 'successfully' divide, with calls of 'unity'

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    How easy to see, motes in eyes afar

    Those gentle souls who taught us to listen, learn, read, write, to see other viewpoints, integrate: they were right

    Those simple, who trusted all was right, led us in games, teams & victories: now late we see blind

    The old, have failed the young, 'gone along' with the rule of Fear & Greed

    Time comes, not to be slaves, but to stand for all, as equals

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    I see the BBC is running an item under the sub-heading "Why the UK wants to reform European Court of Human Rights".

    Excuse me. The Tories may well, but please do not imply they speak for the UK as includes me and many others.

    We have seen what the Tories mean by "reform" in many areas. "Destroy", usually.

    I'd think Hollande'll be relieved when the UK ends its incumbency, as many of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.


    "when Powermeerkat produces facts ...", you have to check them for yourself. In Gavin's previous blog, he asserted first that e.g. Franco was not supported by the USA, and later admitted that Nixon himself had acknowledged that "General Franco was a loyal friend and ally of the United States." It is not clear that he improved his performance in the timescale of a week.


Comments 5 of 148



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