François Fillon’s Peculiar European Dance
While Macron wants a “European France,” Fillon aims for the pipedream of a “French Europe.”
- French retirees worry about the impact that leaving the EU has on their personal savings and living standards.
- Fillon wishes to substitute a perceived and decried German leadership by a French one.
- Fillon is on his way to repeating the same errors made by Hollande in his presidential campaign five years ago.
The speech which François Fillon, the embattled French Presidential candidate, gave in Maisons-Alfort on February 24 was delivered with pugnacity and conviction. It should by all means have satisfied his audience.
The section dedicated to Europe had clearly a dual objective: First, not to abandon the “pro- EU” field to Emmanuel Macron, the centrist candidate, and second, to lure back into the fold supporters of the National Front, in particular retirees.
The old versus LePen?
Indeed, with the prospects for Marine LePen appearing to be rising, an increasing number of French retirees are worrying about the impact that leaving the Euro and the EU (or their outright implosion) is bound to have on their personal savings, their purchasing power and living standards.
Never mind the ability to enjoy the freedom of movement of people inside Europe that membership in the EU guarantees.
Like dancing on eggs
The European program of Fillon should reassure his camp by performing, not without a certain panache, a difficult high wire act.
For the conservative candidate, this consists of enumerating a list of domains in which sharing sovereignty with other Member States is required – and pairing this with an uncompromising defense of “national sovereignty.” The latter is meant to underpin the French leadership in a reformed EU.
Where Fillon has strong support in the rest of Europe is the lucidity with which he recognizes that the success of the EU is dependent on the long overdue economic recovery of France.
Will the punting end?
Successive French governments, including the one he led, have evaded the country’s freely accepted European commitments and postponed the structural reforms that its partners have implemented. Fillon is right to insist that without such reforms neither France nor the EU can prosper.
However, the ambiguity of François Fillon’s posture puts into focus two significant flaws.
The first concerns the arrogance with which Fillon claims the preponderance of French national interests, which he justifies as the result of making in due course, France the most powerful European state.
In other words, he wishes to substitute a perceived and (often unjustifiably) decried German leadership by a French one.
Is France Europe’s most powerful state?
Fillon expressed this ambition forcefully in the field of defense for which he is already demanding a financial contribution from other Member States towards the French efforts undertaken in the “interests of the Union as a whole.”
Everyone recognizes the superiority of French forces within the EU and the privileges that come with being both a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Nevertheless, a “mutualization” of defense expenditures at EU level, as Fillon envisions it, must have, as a corollary, the right of France’s EU partners to fully participate in the decisions to engage and deploy military forces, as well as the determination of the objectives pursued, within the framework of the common European “foreign affairs and defense”policy. Fillon doesn’t mention any of that in his speech.
The rest of Europe doesn’t like what it hears
His disregard for the interests of the 440 million citizens of the other 26 Member States may be electorally motivated, but it won’t stick. It is strongly resented in the rest of Europe.
This is not the way to create the most favorable conditions to ensure the blossoming of the EU as a whole and in particular, of France within it.
The second flaw is that Fillon is on his way to repeating, with greater subtlety, the same errors made by François Hollande in his presidential campaign five years ago.
He boasted at the time that he would renegotiate the European budgetary treaty as soon as he was elected, only to be forced to ratify it without the slightest change.
Those of Fillon’s many supporters who believe him and are equally deeply wedded to “national sovereignty” are in for a rude awakening after the election.
A man in a bind
As for Fillon, he is in a bind. Should he that France’s influence within the EU, though undoubtedly significant, is limited by the views and interests of its partners, quite a few of his supporters might be tempted to vote for the National Front.
François Fillon has correctly made a strong appeal to focus his presidential campaign on programmatic fundamentals. The question of France’s future within Europe is crucial in that context.
Two very different visions
While Macron gives the impression of strongly supporting the advent of a “European France,” Fillon, on the contrary, appears to incarnate a caricature of a “French Europe.” That is a vision France’s EU partners will unanimously reject out of hand.