יום רביעי, 29 ביוני 2016

Marine Le Pen Prepares for a “Frexit”

Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s far-right National Front, has said that she would hold a referendum on the country’s membership in the E.U. within six months of attaining power.
Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s far-right National Front, has said that she would hold a referendum on the country’s membership in the E.U. within six months of attaining power.

On Thursday evening, Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s far-right National Front, gathered with Party leaders at a fish-and-chips restaurant in the Sixth Arrondissement of Paris, in a kitschy salute to what they believed would be a continuance of their shared destiny with the British. Around 1 A.M., when some of the group was still out revelling, the polls began to suggest the real possibility of a Brexit. The Party leaders scrambled to assemble a response. “The British people have given not only to Europeans but to people around the entire world a shattering lesson in democracy,” Le Pen, surprised but triumphant, told reporters the next morning. “A new Europe will emerge,” she said. “For all patriots, for anyone who loves liberty, today is a day of joy. It is not that Europe is dead but that the European Union is teetering, and the nations are being reborn.”

Since 2013, Le Pen has maintained that, if she attains power, she will hold a referendum on France’s membership in the E.U. within six months. A survey in March found that fifty-three per cent of French voters would support such a referendum, and another, published today, found that only forty-five per cent are certain they would vote to remain. Le Pen consistently leads polls for next spring’s Presidential election, and is all but certain to advance into the second round of voting. On Friday, she proclaimed Britain’s vote a first concrete step toward her vision, and the European question certainly will now become central to the campaign. “Before, this was unheard of,” Florian Philippot, a National Front vice-president and Le Pen’s top strategist, told journalists gathered at the Party headquarters, in Nanterre. “Now it’s no longer unheard of. There’s a precedent, and that changes a lot.” Philippot brushed aside suggestions that Britain’s exit would be painful for France, which is more economically integrated into the E.U., and that the fallout might affect public opinion. “That’s the propaganda of the Europeanists,” he told me, predicting that the market upset was temporary. “They have nothing else to say other than to try to scare people.” Le Pen and Philippot called for a “new European project,” of sovereign and “independent” nations.

If the British political establishment has turned out to be surprisingly fragile, the French have reason for serious concern. The U.K. has remained one or two percentage points ahead of France in economic growth over the past few years, and Britain’s unemployment rate is half that of France. That’s to say nothing of the two major terror attacks on French soil within a year, along with a spate of smaller ones, which have destroyed public confidence in the French government. Eighty-five per cent of French voters do not wish to see President François Hollande stand for reëlection next year. And yet Hollande remains unwilling to take risks—hovering in the background, for example, while his Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet take much of the public wrath for unpopular but necessary labor reforms—until after 2017. One parliamentarian, at a post-Brexit panel discussion on Saturday, dolefully cited a political truism that has special currency in France right now: “If you are having visions, then you should go see a doctor.”

The director of France’s domestic-intelligence agency, Patrick Calvar, recently warned a parliamentary committee that France was “on the brink of civil war.” A few weeks earlier, Calvar had told the National Assembly that one or two more terrorist attacks by self-proclaimed jihadists could easily provoke far-right violence against Muslim communities. It’s a hypothetical not wholly unimaginable after the murder of Jo Cox, the British Labour M.P., before the Brexit vote, as well as a tense standoff in Newcastle on Saturday evening, when competing protests between far-right demonstrators and refugee-aid groups came to a head. Calvar said that radicalism of various types was increasing across Europe, and that some far-right extremists were “only waiting” for a confrontation. “It is up to us to anticipate and block all these groups who would like, at one moment or another, to trigger these clashes,” he said in the earlier testimony.

A rare concurrence between Le Pen and the establishment took shape over the weekend, when Hollande and his Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, agreed that it is now necessary to “invent another Europe.” Of course, the two sides diverge on their conception of what that Europe should look like. Some younger voters, and others who feel that the party organizations in France are increasingly meaningless, are looking to Emmanuel Macron, France’s maverick thirty-eight-year-old economy minister, and his frank, straightforward speaking style. Macron rankled his colleagues in April, when he launched his own political movement, meant to transcend the left-right divide, on a free-market-reform, pro-entrepreneurial, pro-Europe platform. His supporters, who his staff have said number more than fifty thousand, have been going door to door across the country to take measure of French citizens’ concerns, which the movement will present as part of a “diagnostic” at the end of the summer.

“It’s clear that there are two Great Britains, one that is content with globalization and with Europe, and another that cannot find itself,” Macron said in a public discussion on Saturday, noting that the same division exists in France. “When Europe is no longer anything more than an open market, when it no longer has any sense, people cannot find their place in it,” he said. “We don’t know anymore why we decided to build a common entity, and so we have a Europe that has lost its ambition. Whereas the European project does have meaning, which is to be stronger together.” Macron proposed a solution that sounded revelatory in the context of the myopia of the political class: a conversation. “That’s what politics is,” he said. Le Pen understands this very well—she has been defter than her opponents at making her ideas heard. It’s unlikely that she will actually be able to win a majority of votes and carry out a referendum, but those who disagree with her will have to make their case just as loudly.

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