Runoff election in France: The nervous look at Paris


Status: 04/23/2022 08:30 a.m

France votes – and there is a certain tension in Europe. Because whether President Macron or his challenger Le Pen wins the race is crucial for the European community.

By Carolin Dylla, ARD Capital Studio

German politicians are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the election, as it could turn Franco-German relations and thus cooperation in Europe upside down. With Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen of the far-right Rassemblement National party, there are two candidates who stand for diametrically opposed courses.

The liberal, almost Europe-enthusiastic Macron – and Le Pen, whose ideas and political projects ultimately mean nothing more than a retreat into the national sphere. Accordingly, people in Germany look nervously at the second and decisive round of the election. Macron is currently ten percentage points ahead of his challenger in the polls.

Le Pen’s victory would probably have serious consequences

For the SPD politician Nils Schmid, chairman of the board of the Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly, this is cause for at least cautious optimism. Although it seems a bit as if he doesn’t even want to think about Le Pen’s victory: “That would be a catastrophe for European politics and especially for Franco-German cooperation.”

Ronja Kempin, an expert on Franco-German relations and security and defense at the German Science and Politics Foundation, believes that Le Pen’s electoral success would have serious consequences. “Many observers even say it would be much more dramatic for Germany and the EU than Donald Trump’s 2016 election in the United States,” emphasizes Kempin, because Le Pen’s program represents a radical break with France’s previous European policy on many levels.

Le Pen and the “Europe of Fatherlands”

In her election manifesto, she advocates a “European alliance of nations” that should “gradually replace” the EU. This “alliance” is the counter-proposal to what she describes as an “ideologically charged, federalist super-state.” Specifically, the candidate has announced, among other things, that France’s contribution to the EU budget will be significantly reduced and that, by means of a constitutional referendum, she will ensure that French national law takes precedence over EU law.

Even if these demands are more than questionable in terms of European law and are unlikely to be politically feasible, they stand for a radical rejection of deeper European integration and thus also call into question the role of Franco-German cooperation as the engine of this integration.

The traffic light and En Marche: lock step in European politics?

Macron’s program is the stark alternative to this. When Macron became president in 2017, he presented far-reaching, almost visionary ideas in his Sorbonne speech on how he wanted to further develop the European Union. These included, among other things, the harmonization of the European social and fiscal systems and the development of a European defense policy, including a common defense budget.

The coalition agreement of the German traffic light government takes up much of this – in particular the idea of ​​greater European sovereignty in central areas such as energy supply or digital technology, in which the EU should be able to act independently.

If Macron is re-elected, it is to be expected that he will speed up the implementation of his ambitious goals and put the corresponding pressure on his German partner. “Berlin will also have to go along with it and at least provide answers to Macron’s European policy impulses,” thinks Kempin from the Science and Politics Foundation.

Pretty best friends – with partly different views

This does not mean, however, that fundamental conflicts and differences of opinion between Germany and France in important policy areas have been resolved. For example in economic and fiscal policy, when it comes to nuclear power and last but not least in security and defense policy.

According to Kempin, the “turning point” announced by Chancellor Olaf Scholz was well received in France, but this did not completely offset the long-standing feeling that Germany relied too heavily on its European partners when it came to defense.

A concrete reason for upset: the German announcement that it wants to buy American F-35 fighter jets. “People in France had hoped that the French Rafale aircraft might also get a chance. And they are very concerned about how serious the federal government is about the joint armaments projects that were agreed with the previous government in 2017,” says kempins

There are also approximations

But there have also been clear convergences with the French positions – even in the last few years of Angela Merkel’s government, emphasizes SPD politician Schmid. The Corona reconstruction fund in particular has shown that Germany is also open to making the EU more capable of acting. “And we will still have to discuss during this legislative period how we can take further steps for joint European efforts in the areas of business, infrastructure and new technologies after the implementation of this fund,” said Schmid.

Scholz’ election campaign in “Le Monde”

On Thursday, Chancellor Scholz, together with his counterparts from Spain and Portugal, Pedro Sánchez and António Costa, published a guest article in the French daily newspaper “Le Monde”, which indirectly called for Macron’s election. An unusual step – perhaps more obvious than it should be for a head of government before an election in the neighboring country.

It is Le Pen’s ideas that made the Chancellor take action. In the article, the three politicians, all Social Democrats, write, among other things: “It is a choice between a democratic candidate. One who believes that France is also stronger within a powerful and independent Europe. And a candidate from the extreme right, who openly sides with those who are attacking our freedom and our democracy.” Although no names are mentioned, it is more than clear who is meant in each case.

The step may seem unusual, says Schmid, but it takes European reality into account: “European politics flows into national politics. That’s why we can’t be indifferent if a radical right-wing, anti-European politician could be elected.”

For Ronja Kempin, it shows the great nervousness associated with the election from a German and European perspective. And “it also shows that the heads of government are aware of the far-reaching consequences that an election of Marine Le Pen would have for the progress of the European integration process.”

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