Driven by Poland, French politicians line up to denigrate the EU – POLITICO
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Within months of a presidential election, French politicians embarked on a wave of denigration of the EU – spurred by a Polish court ruling that challenged the legal basis of the European Union.
Strong criticism of the EU and calls for France to assert its national sovereignty have come not only from the usual far-right suspects, but also from presidential candidates who are part of the country’s political mainstream.
The rhetoric adds to the main concerns EU leaders face over the Polish move, which was encouraged and adopted by the Polish nationalist government.
The European Commission has made it clear that EU law takes precedence over national law, including national constitutions. If a contrary opinion becomes political orthodoxy in a country as central to the European project as France, it could raise serious questions about the future of the EU.
ValÃ©rie PÃ©cresse, the leader of the Paris region who is campaigning to be the presidential candidate of the conservative Les RÃ©publicains party in the elections next April, has become the last French politician to enter the fray.
“Europe is a Europe of nations,” PÃ©cresse told CNews TV on Wednesday. âThis means that our constitutional laws, our constitutional identity, each, each sovereign state, must prevail over European jurisdiction. “
Former socialist government minister Arnaud Montebourg, another presidential hopeful, hailed the Polish decision.
âPoland’s assertion of national sovereignty by law is an important event. France, which does not share Poland’s political tendencies, will nevertheless have to carry out the same affirmation of the superiority of its laws over European decisions, âMontebourg said in a statement.
Back to center-right, Michel Barnier, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator and former EU commissioner, took an uncompromising stance long before the Polish courts handed down their decision.
In an attempt to polish his credentials on immigration – a central theme of the election campaign – with the grassroots conservative voters he needs to win his party’s nomination, he called last month for a referendum on the election. question and declared that France must regain its “legal sovereignty”. Â»In order to no longer be subject to the immigration judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution).
(Yet after the Polish ruling, Barnier took to CNN to express his concerns about it. The irony was not lost over his opponents.)
Other conservatives have also pushed for an assertion of French legal superiority even before Polish judges render their decision.
Xavier Bertrand, another presidential hopeful from the ranks of the Republicans, proposed to modify the French constitution to introduce “a mechanism to safeguard the superior interests of France”. And yet another future president from the ranks of the same party, Eric Ciotti, has made a similar proposal.
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The government of President Emmanuel Macron has taken a very different position, condemning the Polish court ruling as an attack on the European Union. But the chorus of calls from other mainstream politicians, as well as far-right leader Marine Le Pen, for France to assert its sovereignty plays into popular discontent with the EU.
Only 36% of French people say they trust the EU, the lowest figure in the Union and 13 percentage points below the EU average, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey.
Some presidential candidates such as Bertrand and Ciotti have also said that France should reassert itself by leaving integrated NATO command – a proposal with strong echoes from Charles de Gaulle, who made the same move in the 1960s.
Analysts say such rhetoric contributes to the growing feeling among a significant portion of the French population that France has lost its power and glory. For some French people, the way to regain such prestige is to free the country from the constraints of Community law on immigration, in particular, and to distance itself from the United States.
“It speaks to a part of the working class but also to a more socially disparate electorate which is defined mainly by a feeling of personal or collective decline,” said Emmanuel RiviÃ¨re of the Kantar Public polling institute.
âAnd in this sense, it corresponds to a Trumpian alliance between a declining middle class and a wealthy conservative and sovereignist electorate who can represent around 40% of voters. ”
A number of developments in recent years have reinforced the feeling among some voters that France must reassert itself. These include the shortage of protective equipment in France at the start of the coronavirus crisis and its inability to produce a vaccine; deadlock with UK over post-Brexit fishing rights; and the humiliation felt by the new security pact between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom known as AUKUS, which meant the cancellation of a major agreement on French submarines.
Blaming the EU and NATO allows presidential candidates – many of whom have very little foreign policy experience – to provide a seemingly straightforward solution.
“We are in a context very marked by a return to sovereignty”, declared Thierry Chopin, expert on France and the EU at the think tank of the Jacques Delors Institute. âAnd not only in France.
The cacophony of calls to push back the EU means Macron will be under pressure to show what the bloc can do for French citizens as he runs for office and Paris takes over the EU Council presidency on the 1st. January. (Macron has yet to announce he is running for a second term, but is expected to do so early next year.)
Macron might be tempted to try to push through an EU migration package, for example, although a deal on the issue has eluded the bloc for years.
Although Macron is a strong supporter of the EU and defends France’s role in multilateral institutions, some analysts say he has at times also played on the desire for France to follow its own path.
“Macron did not discourage these trends with his statement on NATO [that the alliance was suffering âbrain deathâ]and his assertion to [French] ambassadors [in 2019] that ‘we must take back control’, âsaid Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the French think tank Foundation for Strategic Research.
“He failed to convince the French that sovereignty should now be European,” Tertrais added.
The causes of French skepticism towards the EU are many and complex. And despite them, France has remained a key player in the bloc throughout its history.
But analysts say the way the EU operates doesn’t connect with some French voters.
âOur political culture is based on the centrality of a centralized state and is far removed from the culture of compromise at the heart of the EU,â according to Chopin.
Even though Macron can point to major French victories in the EU during his first term – such as the creation of a common European debt to finance a historic coronavirus stimulus fund, an overhaul of the rules for workers in the EU operating outside their home country and a more interventionist approach to industrial policy – it cuts little ice with some voters. Nor the fact that many French officials, such as European Commissioner Thierry Breton, are key players on the Brussels scene.
“The French do not want to leave the EU but their confidence in the European project and in what it can bring positively to French citizens is diminishing, and there is very little visibility on what the European project is”, said declared Tara Varma, head of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.