Rethinking Europe

François Fillon and the EU

The potential future French President’s views on the EU, while still emerging, are a matter of global interest.

Credit: Joseph Sohm Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Fillon understands that only structural reforms can restore French credibility within the EU.
  • Fillon’s contradicting European policies: He embraces a sovereigntist posture but proposes a phony display of European federalism.
  • Fillon plans to attract both France’s extreme right and leftwing parties to his cause in the upcoming presidential elections.
  • Fillon’s underlying intention is to eliminate the European Commission from the EU future governance process.
  • Would Fillon accept a debt mutualization on behalf of France if his country were in the same financial position as Germany?

François Fillon, the just selected French Republicains’ presidential candidate for 2017, would beat Marine Le Pen solidly in a second-round run-off, according to the latest polls.

However, it is still early days. In light of the surprises that recent elections have delivered (Brexit/Trump), one should not give polls great significance.

Nevertheless, since Fillon is the leading candidate in the April/May 2017 election, his position on key issues pertaining to the European Union are quickly becoming a matter of global interest.

Fillon’s contradictory views on the EU

Many observers feel encouraged by Fillon’s emphasis to run on a platform of (finally) pursuing long overdue and so far still deeply unpopular structural changes in France’s domestic economy.

Fillon correctly perceives achieving these structural reforms as a necessary condition for restoring French credibility and leadership within the EU.

At the same time, Fillon’s European policies are riddled with contradictions:

1. On the one hand, as would be expected from any leader of France, Fillon embraces a (respectable) sovereigntist posture. He wants to curtail the European Commission’s powers by limiting its future interventions to “certain specific domains.”

This suggests that all other powers should be repatriated to national governments, along the lines advocated by Britain’s “Brexeteers.”

2. On the other hand, he proposes a rather phony display of European federalism, implemented through a “political directorate” of the EMU. It would be composed of the Eurozone’s heads of government.

This grouping would be akin to a subset of the European Council (as another intergovernmental body). It would become a substitute for the Eurogroupe (which consists of finance ministers).

The ambiguity of this posture is most likely deliberate. Fillon’s plan is to attract both members of France’s extreme right and leftwing parties to his cause in the upcoming presidential elections. He does so by adopting some of their “Eurosceptic” agenda items.

However, failing more specific details concerning the governance of this new body, one should question its capacity to take decisions, implement them and ensure that they are enforced.

Cutting out EC from future policy interference?

This issue is all the more relevant because one can guess that Fillon’s underlying intention is to eliminate the European Commission from the EU future governance process.

In this case, all the progress accomplished since the financial crisis through the ratification of the “Budgetary Treaty,” the implementation of the “European Semester” and of the “Six and Two Pack” legislation would be lost.

Furthermore, the democratic legitimacy of this rather French-style “Directoire” would be challenged as not being accountable to anyone.

Playing sovereign debt games with Germany?

Under such conditions, it is difficult to envisage the acquiescence of other EMU Member States. This applies in particular with regard to the only concrete proposal mentioned by François Fillon, concerning the “mutualisation” of sovereign debts.

Would Fillon accept a debt mutualisation on behalf of France if his country was in the same financial position as Germany?

Would he not express demands, in particular abiding by a budgetary discipline from which, it is rumored, he will seek a further exemptions for France.

That is indeed quite a gutsy, even though highly transparent move. He wants to protect his country from the reach of the very institution he proposes to emasculate!

Campaign fodder only?

This scenario, with which he is unlikely to succeed (not just because of Germany’s unwavering resistance), is likely to lead – after the election campaign – to a quick retreat on Fillon’s part.

Such an outcome would hark back to François Holland’s capitulation on the budgetary treaty. The impact of such political gamesmanship will be quite destructive. It will only reinforce the credibility of all those who’s fondest wish is to bury the EU.

How about a sensible middle course?

There is no doubt that there is a broadly shared view that the EU needs reforming and everyone will applaud if François Fillon can make a contribution by reforming his country.

It also remains true, however, that the need for a political authority at the EMU level is indispensable, if only to serve as an interlocutor to the ECB, which is the only “federal” institution within the Eurozone.

You can’t just share the debt!

Once “monetary” sovereignty is shared, it becomes necessary to pool other fundamental elements of national sovereignty. This involves:

  • shared defense and foreign affairs policy
  • common immigration policy
  • “federal” control of the EU’s external borders

All of these very sensitive policy areas are the elements of the internal cohesion that need to be addressed in order to underpin the credibility of the common currency.

François Fillon may well be correct in stating that Europeans are far from ready to take a bold “federal” leap in order to ensure their common future.

In this case, as the honest man that he is, he should abide by his own code of ethics and tell the truth to the French people: If you are not willing to share sovereignty, you should prepare for the dismantling of the single currency and the European Union.

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About Paul Goldschmidt

Paul Goldschmidt is former Director, EU Commission and Member of the Advisory Board of Stand Up for Europe.

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