Le Pen’s campaign aims to mask extreme foreign policy positions

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The French presidential election showdown between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen puts the country at a crossroads when it comes to foreign policy. As in 2017 and now, Le Pen’s campaign has focused primarily on domestic concerns.

Yet it is in his foreign policy positions that Le Pen is most ambiguous. Le Pen has attenuated his rhetoric about the EU, NATO and Russia, but this approach hardly veils his extreme position. Will this be enough to encourage French voters to support her against Macron?

Le Pen has made no secret of his admiration for Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. She repeats what most French presidential candidates say – that France has a special role in the world, and that it should once again become a great independent nation and influence world events.

His idea of ​​a European Alliance of Nations which “would aim to gradually replace” the EU, in fact implies a parallel organisation, without a timetable and without a clear composition. It looks like a phased withdrawal plan from the EU.

Le Pen wants cash France’s status in the EU by reintroducing permanent border controls between Schengen members. She would recommend breaking European legislation to limit access to social security to anyone who does not have at least one French parent; unilateral cuts in EU budget contributions; French priority access to housing; the “buy French” requirements imposed on the government; and additional state aid to farmers.

These policies would lead to the initiation of infringement proceedings before the ECJ for any of the measures, and ultimately lead to France being unable to maintain its EU membership.

In terms of security policy, Le Pen is pursuing a “hands-free” strategy, including withdrawal from NATO’s integrated military structure; the end of defense industrial cooperation with Germany; and more defense cooperation with the UK. This would lead to major political tensions over the compromised security architecture in Europe, especially if its ambiguous stance on Russia remains in place.

These planned actions would pose very serious problems for France’s place in the EU. A French disengagement of this magnitude would raise fundamental questions about the functioning of the EU, with no clear alternative in place.

Le Pen challenges the rule of EU law, arguing that the French constitution should come first. His views on border controls would come into direct confrontation with EU free movement principles, as would his support for protectionist policies in favor of French workers.

On NATO, Le Pen is of the opinion that France would be better off without the treaty alliance, so that France “would no longer be caught up in conflicts that are not ours”. A Le Pen presidency would likely see France become a spoiler, along with Hungary, when it comes to Europe’s largely unified response to the war in Ukraine.

Like newly re-elected Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Le Pen has been outspoken about European arms transfers, saying sending arms to Ukraine risked making France a co-belligerent in the war.

Le Pen’s well-publicized closeness to Putin does not appear to have affected his performance in the first round of the French presidential elections. But that could change in the second round vote on April 24, 2022. Putin welcomed in the Kremlin in 2017, a few weeks before the last French presidential election. The photo of their handshake appears in one of Le Pen’s current campaign leaflets, printed before the war and then scrapped.

In its manifesto, it pleads for an “alliance” with Russia, for example in terms of European security policy. For her last presidential election campaign in 2017, the far-right leader received a loan of 9 million euros ($9.8 million) from a Russian bank.

In February 2022, Le Pen said she did not believe ‘at all’ that Russia would invade Ukraine and condemned “a misunderstanding of issues and thinking” in Russia.

Since the start of the war, Le Pen has backtracked, calling the massacres of civilians in Bucha “war crimes” and calling for a UN investigation. The pen mentioned once the Russian-Ukrainian war is over and settled by a peace treaty, she would call for a “strategic rapprochement between NATO and Russia”.

Le Pen’s 2022 campaign saw her drop its past unpopular proposals to abandon the euro or leave the EU. “No one is against Europe,” she said. “I would not stop paying France’s contribution to the EU, I want to reduce it.” On the one hand, she clarified that everything “Frexit”, in the sense of Britain’s exit from the EU. was not on his agenda.

On the other hand, Le Pen argued that the French predictions that Brexit would prove “a cataclysm for the English” had not come to pass. “The British have gotten rid of Brussels bureaucracy, which they could never bear, to move on to an ambitious project of global Britain,” she said. But she added: ‘It’s not our project. We want to reform the EU from within.

However, his proposed economic, social and migration agenda would mean breaking EU laws and would be incompatible with EU membership. A victory for Le Pen on April 24 would have disastrous consequences for France and the EU. It would rely on the lack of knowledge of a large group of French voters who do not know how the EU works.

Much could hinge on the televised debate between Le Pen and Macron on April 20, 2022. Five years ago, Le Pen was widely seen as having failed in a damaging televised clash with Macron. This time around she is likely to perform better, although her knowledge and substance on policies rather than campaign slogans should be tested by Macron.

Le Pen’s campaign features policies that are a big threat to the EU, NATO and the anti-authoritarian global coalition. The way Le Pen describes his foreign policy positions during the election campaign is clearly dishonest.

She wants to leave the EU; it is against the NATO alliance, and it has close ties with the Kremlin. Like any populist, Le Pen is adapt his rhetoric to achieve his political ambition. The danger will be in her actions, if she is elected.

By Professor John Ryan, network researcher at CESifo, Munich, Germany.

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