The EU Can Withstand a Le Pen Victory in France

The EU Can Withstand a Le Pen Victory in France
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen arrives at a television recording studio for a debate with President Emmanuel Macron in La Plaine-Saint-Denis, outside Paris, April 20, 2022 (AP photo by Francois Mori).

Many in Brussels continue to anxiously observe events in France in anticipation of what this Sunday’s presidential runoff election will bring. President Emmanuel Macron has widened his lead over his far-right challenger, Marine Le Pen, since the first round earlier this month, with the latest polls showing him with a 10-point lead. But this gap is considered too close for comfort and is a smaller margin than Macron’s 33-point victory over Le Pen in 2017.

A Le Pen victory on Sunday would undoubtedly present an existential crisis for the European Union, a notion highlighted by Macron in last night’s presidential debate, in which the subject of the EU provided one of the starkest contrasts between the two candidates. While her party may have backed off from its calls for France to withdraw from the EU—admitting that this “Frexit” position was a vote loser five years ago—Le Pen still promises to make unattainable demands of Brussels immediately after taking office, leading some to call her platform “Frexit in all but name.” She wants to dismantle the free movement of EU citizens and goods in and out of France, close its borders with Europe’s 26 Schengen Area countries, and force a treaty revision that would significantly return authority across major policy issues from Brussels to Paris. But her ideas would likely either be rejected as incompatible with EU membership—in much the same way as former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s treaty change demands were in 2016—and potentially force a referendum, or, if successful, would transform the EU into essentially a free trade bloc with greatly reduced global influence or relevance.

Amid this bleak outlook, however there is one more twist. The French system of government is not a presidential system like that of the United States, contrary to what many observers outside the country believe. It is a semi-presidential system that normally functions like a fully presidential system because the president and prime minister are normally from the same party. When the French Fifth Republic was created in 1958, its architects endeavored to design it so the legislature and presidency would be under the control of the same party. This was further ensured by electoral reforms in the early 2000s that made presidential and legislative elections happen at the same time, making it likely that the voters would give the party of the winning presidential candidate a majority in parliament.

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