France, the sick man of Europe?

Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images

Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images

Maybe after all, Europeans do not deserve the European Union. Or maybe France does not deserve the European Union. The recent results of the elections in France for the European Parliaments send a serious signal to Europe, as there is a real misunderstanding of the role of the EU. Unfortunately, this result does not come as a surprise. With the vote of May 25, France’s role in shaping European policies and the EU has shifted from being central to marginal. For the first time in its history, France will not have enough deputies within the two largest European parties – right wing Europe People’s Party (EPP) and left wing Socialists & Democrats (S&D) – in order to shape policies in Brussels/Strasbourg at least for the next five years.

Throughout the last decade France has progressively moved in this direction of anti-European, anti-globalization, and anti-euro. This started in 2002 with the shocking victory of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the Front National (FN), at the first round of the presidential elections, followed by the 2005 ‘non’ at the referendum to the Constitutional Treaty, and now in 2014 with 25 percent for the Front National becoming the leading party in France in these European elections. Ultimately, one should wonder: What’s wrong with France? Why does France hate so much the European Union?

With 25 percent, the Front National (FN), the largest extreme right wing party, a neo-fascist party progressively transforming itself into a national-populist party, becomes the largest winner of these elections in France. This means that out of the 74 French euro-deputies, one third will belong to the FN, the anti-Europe and populist party. Marine Le Pen, the FN leader, is even self-proclaiming the FN as the ‘first party of France’ and has been calling for a shuffling of the government in accordance with the results of the European elections. This result has been perceived rightfully so throughout Europe and by French political parties as a ‘political earthquake.’ This earthquake with its epicenter in France was well felt throughout Europe as advanced in most European media. Right after the elections, European press was more concerned about the results in France than actually looking/speculating at the next Commission and Presidencies.

National parties

France is one of the founders of the EU with great men like Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Jacques Delors among others. France has greatly benefited from the EU and vice-versa. France has been unable for decades to have a normal relationship with Brussels fueled by a strong domestic belief, a sort of French exceptionalism, that France can exist and strive without the Union. Unfortunately, many French citizens take for granted the accomplishments of the Union and most importantly the maintaining of peace on the European continent. Apparently over 60 years of peace between great European powers, the longest period since 1600, is not that impressive for European citizens.

The argument that the EU is the cause of all problems is the wrong approach. Throughout contemporary history, nation-states have been the main causes behind instability, violence, repression, and economic and social inequalities. So how would retrieving into the nation-state, especially one envisioned by populist-extremist parties like the Front National, would finally bring back stability, peace, and serenity to its citizens? For instance, the FN agenda is misleading and absurd. Ms. Le Pen’s policies consist in assuring her bases that once in power, France will be able to reaffirm its identity and grow by itself outside of the EU. Let’s be clear, French economy cannot survive alone against the international forces of the market. FN policies consist in leaving the common currency, the euro; closing French borders to international trades and blocking the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP); making agriculture the pillar of the French economy; ending the Schengen agreement and reestablishing French borders to fight immigrants.

However, blaming the Eurocrisis on the results in France would only be looking at one side of the coin. They are several reasons behind such outcome: first, mainstream political leaders – right and left combined – should take a large part of the blame. With all these decades of perpetual euro-bashing, it is no surprise to observe French citizens finally voting against Europe. As argued by Jean Quatremer, France’s governments have been the first one to nationalize European successes and Europeanize national failures. The strategy of short-term gain has finally back-fired. Due to this perpetual euro-bashing, not only French psyche has grown anti-Europe, but also mainstream French politicians are unable to mobilize their bases when it comes to voting for Europe.

Second, French contemporary history is not very rosy as well. France has flirted more than once with extremisms and populism. We cannot forget the Dreyfus affair, the centuries of colonization, the 1920s fascist leagues, Vichy and the years of collaboration with the Third Reich, and recent immigration policies. France and its citizens have had a long history of attraction and implementation of xenophobic policies. It is a taboo, but a reality.

Third, no recent Presidents have been able to boost growth and re-give a sense of pride to a wounded country. Instead of implementing real structural reforms, mainstream politicians have tried to increase their electoral bases by wooing the extreme voters on all sides of the political spectrum. The result has been the normalization and incorporation of xenophobic, populist, extremist, mercantilist narratives promoted by the FN into mainstream political narratives. Additionally, French media have normalized such votes for extreme parties by calling them ‘protestation vote.’ Unfortunately, the rebranded FN led by Marine Le Pen, known as the wave Bleu Marine, has had trouble in splitting up with her father’s legacy. The latest antisemitic comments made by Jean-Marie Le Pen, Honorary Chairman of the FN and newly elected MEP, certainly underscores the continuous normative and ideational struggles within the party.

Fourth, in recent years, one of the favorite national sports has been abstention. In the case of the 2014 European elections, 57 percent of French citizens did not dare to vote. These abstainers were complicit in the rise of the FN in 2002 and now in 2014. Abstainers send a wrong message about democracy and republican values discrediting Democracy as a whole. Europe’s neighborhoods are in flame and European neighbors are fighting for the right to vote, meanwhile French citizens perceive it as a waste of time.

Turnout

At the end of the day, the European Union will survive. The center right European People’s Party (EPP) won 221 seats out of the 751 or 29%, followed by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) with 24%. As demonstrated by Daniel Gross, the EPP may have the most seats, but the S&D won the popular vote 24.4% for S&D to 23.9% for EPP. Based on the percentage of seats, conservative and pro-Europe leader Jean-Claude Juncker deserve to be selected as the next president of the Commission. However, based on the popular vote, the S&D leader, Martin Schulz, former President of the European Parliament, should get to head the Commission. But from now on, it will be politics as usual. European leaders that have called and argued in favor of greater democratic representation at the EU level are now facing a challenge: should Juncker be directly propelled at the head of the Commission in accordance with the composition of the European Parliament? Or, will the traditional ‘behind close doors’ strategy remain in appointing the next President of the Commission?

Seat per political groups

In any case the biggest looser of these elections is undeniably France, which has lost its European influence, its European credibility, and its voice in shaping policies in Brussels from the EP. France proportionality within mainstream European parties – S&D and EPP – is much lower than in previous years, but could be balanced by an increasing representation in getting one of the new high level official openings. France has been a pillar of the European adventure, but it now raises fear across Europe.

 (Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.) 
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About politipond

Author - Maxime H. A. Larivé, Ph.D., is a European and transatlantic expert. His book, titled 'Debating European Security and Defense Policy. Understanding the Complexity,' is published with Ashgate.
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5 Responses to France, the sick man of Europe?

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  5. Johnc274 says:

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