The centre-right candidate for next year’s French presidential election presents himself as a defender of French sovereignty who wants to limit the powers of the European Commission. But he also supports further European integration in some areas. EurActiv France reports.
Strengthening national sovereignty while strengthening Europe. François Fillon has promised the French right that he will bring power back to Paris.
But some aspects of his European policy, such as the mutualisation of national debts, have traditionally been the policy domain of pro-European federalists.
François Fillon, a conservative reformist promising to shrink the French state, on Sunday (27 November) clinched the rightwing nomination for next year’s presidential election with a resounding victory over his rival Alain Juppé.
The winner of the Republican Party’s presidential primary is no federalist. “Fillon voted no in the referendum on Maastricht, which is the cornerstone of a certain vision of the EU,” said Charles de Marcilly, from the Robert Schuman Foundation.
In his campaign programme, Nicolas Sarkozy’s former prime minister defends the idea of “a sovereign France in a Europe respectful of nations”, a formulation very similar to the discourse of Eurosceptic parties like the National Front.
“François Fillion’s position is clear, he wants to belong to this common destiny that is Europe […] and to make the principle of subsidiarity work, which is the complete opposite of the populist parties,” said Franck Proust, the head of the Republican delegation in the European Parliament.
“We will never be one federal state. We are just too different. And, incidentally, it would be a historic mistake, because closer ties between states breed more aggressive nationalism,” Fillon said in a speech to the French parliament after the Brexit vote in June.
However, Fillon will soon be pressed to make his vision of Europe clearer. “He will have to detail what he means by a Europe of nations, because the member states already have the last word on almost all European decisions,” said de Marcilly.
Soigneusement évitée durant la primaire de la droite, la question européenne devrait s’inviter dans le débat pour le second tour. Le sujet représente en effet une ligne de fracture majeure entre les deux candidats en lice.
Fillon’s programme is sovereigntist in several regards. For him, Europe should concentrate its actions on fewer, better-defined domains. This would be achieved through the reduction of the European Commission’s powers “to just a few fundamental areas”. All other powers would come back to the member states.
But Fillon’s intentions remain vague for the most part. “We do not have much detail on the question of interinstitutional balance, because the EU was not a campaign subject during the primary,” de Marcilly said.
Another position that does not appear in Fillon’s official programme, but which the candidate has often raised, is the reform of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). He sees many of the institution’s decisions as intrusions on France’s political choices, particularly on subjects like surrogate motherhood.
If his European partners block his reform measures, Fillon has said he would not rule out leaving the ECHR altogether.
Francois Fillon, having clinched the presidential nomination for the right-wing Republicains party, will now join a far bigger battle for the future of France, the European Union and mainstream politics in the West.
Focussing on the eurozone
In other areas, Fillon’s proposals would give away more powers to the EU. He wants to see a harmonised set of rules on immigration, for example, with a “European right to asylum”, as well as a three-fold increase in the budget of Frontex, the European border agency.
Fillon’s proposals on economic governance are also closer to a federalist’s manifesto, with a plan to give the eurozone “a political management structure composed of its heads of government”.
The former prime minister also hopes to complete Europe’s fiscal integration by creating a “European treasury with mutualised debts”. Germany is fiercely opposed to any such plans.
Nobody yet knows the winner of France’s presidential election next year, but the smart money is on one loser: the 3% cap on government deficits enshrined in eurozone rules.
The Russian question
But possibly the biggest divergence between the candidate and his potential future EU counterparts is his position on Russia.
In his manifesto, Fillon, proposed “a new EU-Russia trading partnership” and opposed the EU’s embargo, which “runs contrary to France’s economic interests”.
This is another area in which he may have trouble convincing his German partners.
In a televised debate last night (24 November) French conservative frontrunner François Fillon said Russia must be anchored to Europe, or else Moscow would couple with China, to the detriment of the continent.