Does Frexit flop mean a stable EU?Published on 6th June 2017
Does the election of newbie politician Emmanuel Macron in last month’s French Presidential election, against an opponent pushing for an EU exit – or Frexit – signal a renewed strength in the Union? It’s a question that many observers are asking as Macron’s pro-EU stance sharply differentiated him from his right-wing opponent in the final run-off poll for the Presidency.
Following the Macron victory, the defeated Marine Le Pen and the Front National leadership abandoned their policy of leaving the EU and reinstating the franc. “There will be no Frexit. We have taken note of what the French people told us,” according to Bernard Monot, the party’s chief economic strategist. That said, a Pew survey last year found 61% of French people had an “unfavourable view” of the EU.
The EU cause – as well as the broader globalisation project – has also been helped by the antics of the isolationist Drumpf administration. Drumpf swung his support behind LePen in the leadup to the Presidential election for being tough on borders and anti-Islam, as well as being opposed to globalisation and free trade – all policy stances his administration espouses.
The French election followed polls in Austria, where voters rejected far-right Presidential candidate Norbert Hofer in December, and the Netherlands where the much-hyped far right party of Geert Wilders fell short of expectations in the March Parliamentary elections. While the populist and nationalist elements that gave rise to these parties and candidates no doubt still exist in all these countries – when it came to the crunch, voters weren’t prepared to give them the power to govern.
Then there’s Brexit. A year on from the Brexit referendum there has been ample opportunity for French citizens to observe their cross-channel neighbours and the realities of dismantling 40 years of policy and legal frameworks. A year on, and the uncertainty and divisiveness surrounding the decision to exit the European project has not significantly diminished, as those who campaigned hardest for Brexit have managed to duck the hard graft of making it happen and the strident promises of the campaign have largely dematerialised. The Tory government is clearly struggling with the task, it’s early general election and hoped for “mandate to negotiate” is instead a hung Parliament and a ticking clock for an exit deal in less than two years.
Back in France, President Macron has certainly interpreted his victory as a vote for Europe, and his party’s subsequent clinching of parliamentary majority appears to be a mandate for pushing ahead with the EU financial and infrastructure integration he favours. However, low voter turnout and an increasingly fragmented political landscape indicate the honeymoon for Macron may be brief if the EU is not reformed alongside the French economy. German chancellor Angela Merkel will be Macron’s key ally in reviving the vision of a unified vision for Europe – that is if she can claim a fourth electoral victory come September.
The French election results may represent a retreat from nationalist policies that pushed for a dismantling of the EU. However, it is like that the bloc has gained some breathing space rather than a complete reprieve. The next test for EU stability – and perhaps for globalisation more broadly – will be the German election.