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, Europe editor Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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Comments

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1.

    Interesting that even the spiritual home of European Integration is becoming ambivalent about the whole project! Just watch over the next 20 years as that view becomes more widespread.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 2.

    Buy European? If only it was that easy.

    I still try to but British but the obstacles are huge. For example nearly everything (except food) in M&S is made in China or nearby. Even jackets marked "Saville Row" are made in China.

    As consumers we are, as a group, too complacent.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 3.

    One for all, all for one, and every country for itself.What a union.Fractures that apperared at the periphery are nbow spreading to the core, France, Italy.When the the going gets tough, Europe folds like a cheap tent.Gone is the rhetoric of unity whose echoes have barely died out.Europe's true sentiments, the enginineers of the EU superstate notwithstanding is still largely tribal.Au Revoir EU

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 4.

    The EU needs a New Deal.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 5.

    The EU and Central Bank are a one stop shop for bankers and investors. No messy dealing with all those individual governments and can abuse individual countries at a safe distance and through those politicians that they own. Bankers are living well off of high interest rates they have created for money they were given for free. Only fools or the corrupt would accept what what the bankers want.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 6.

    The French are a loveable yet exasperating nation. This campaign has been well worth the watch. i can't vote for any of them, thank God. So pity the French voter who has a hard choice to make.

    At least in France the politics and the politicians are different.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 7.

    The problem is EU failure at reconciling itself with both the rising force of extrreme right & left wing politics. As that happens the very conservative EU, its failing, non progressive, policies, seen increasingly fossils, by both extremes. Inevitably endangering the EUs existence, as it fails to reconcile with the reactionary trends.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 8.

    Hollande has a good chance to get elected.Many people don't like Sarkozy for a lot of reasons.I think Hollande would completely upset the EU's financial applecart, his policies totally at odds with Merckels.I think regardless of which party they vote for, French are ultimately a conservative people who do not want radical change and do not want to relinquish their Frenchness to become Europeans

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 9.

    GH:

    >There are no votes in a more closely united Europe.

    the irony being that it's the safest bet for a more stable and prosperous €Z and will be pursued regardless.

    The threats and policies from most of the candidates just ring hollow in the same way the current British PM's threats to veto a treaty already ratified was met with giggles and smirks by anyone with common sense.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 10.

    Real news is the "pack": Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader extreme Left Party, has barreled into third place with 15%, leading Marine Le Pen of extreme right-wing National Front. Peculiar nature of France’s electoral system makes contest all the more fascinating & worrisome.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 11.

    Thanks to Melenchon, abstention on left won't happen. Wearing trademark red tie, he addressed 100,000, speckled with red signs, red flags & red caps - symbolic of French Revolution. He called for “civic insurrection” against a nation “disfigured by inequalities”. Hollande watched as Melenchon drained off disaffected Socialist voters.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 12.

    Positive signs that there is no alternative to austerity litany is breaking down through the French elections, Unfortunately for Sarkozy his late conversion to Euro - scepticism is not very credible and convincing and it will not save him. Meanwhile the I'm all right Fritz position of Merkel will be one that she will increasingly enjoy alone.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 13.

    Marine Le Pen has striven to new-image National Front, disassociating herself from daddy's forays into Holocaust denial, declaring she has “a different vision”. Yet her attitude toward Muslims is brutal, like daddy's towards Jews. French Muslims praying on streets, she references as a “new occupation” & insists that an untold number of Mohamed Merahs arrive every day on French soil.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 14.

    Strong third-place showing by Le Pen OR Melenchon will complicate final round. Hollande risks becoming hostage to Melenchon’s economic & political proposals, while Sarkozy is already trying to peel off Le Pen’s supporters. While the republic will survive, the victor will have his work cut out to prove that there isn’t something rotten in the state of France or EU, or…

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 15.

    The election is another chapter in the long, slow decline of France. The anti-EU talk is only rhetoric, as France is too firmly wedded to the EU project to be truly independent.

    Meanwhile, the economy continues to slide & Hollande promises an infantile tax-and-spend future, while the social disintegration & ghettos are scary. Physically, large parts of France already resemble East Europe,

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 16.

    #3 Suilerua
    I can see the energy from this flawed & cherry picked article it is far from "Au Revoir EU". Nothing grows only from abstract plans or ideals but from real problem solving however messily. European nations will not disappear but among their many layers of identity one is European and like it or not the current financial crisis will eventually bring Europe closer to fiscal union.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 17.

    The Pro-Islam bigots here in the U.K. who throw glib comments of racist at any questioning of mass Immigration, still seem to hold credence here in this soon to become 3 rd world state,
    Maybe even soon to become Islamic..

    The French on the other hand have had enough .. and blame the E.U. and their politicos..

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 18.

    16EU grew from seed of a poisonous weed whose venom is anti-Americanism, & an irrational view if its own self importance.There's no such thing as being "European" except as defined on maps anymore than there is a "North American."There is no EU superstate, it exists in name & on paper only.When push comes to shove and so called Europeans have to dig deep to help each other they revolt.Unsurprising

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 19.

    6.stanilic

    "...At least in France the politics and the politicians are different..."

    ===

    Very different from ours, agreed.

    However, because of the French constitution, there's a surprising amount of consensus, even between ostensibly disparate parties. Because of this French voters are perhaps more likely to switch than their UK counterparts.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 20.

    GH: 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".


    True, but I remember times when French and not only French Socialists were dictated to by the Socialist International.

    And didn't complain.

    How times change. :-)

 

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