The Brief: French election descends into tyre fires and dolphins

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Last Sunday, it became clear that the second round of the French election would be fought over Europe. At EURACTIV, we were quick to announce this “clash” between the Europhile and the Eurosceptic.

Now it seems we were a bit hasty. Four days after French voters chose Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen as their frontrunners, all we have seen are tyre fires, dolphin impressions and efforts to appropriate Joan of Arc.

On Wednesday, both candidates rushed to a Whirlpool factory near Arras, where the company has decided to end production to take advantage of cheaper labour in Poland.

Le Pen stayed ten minutes, just long enough to take a few selfies with star-struck workers. Those made redundant were only too happy to tell her that the socialist government and Macron himself had done nothing for them.

“If I am elected, Whirlpool will not close,” she promised, as if she could do anything about it.

And like that, she was gone.

A few hours later, Macron turned up with an army of journalists. They were welcomed with tyre fires and a lot of anger.

Macron’s security guards nearly suffered heart failure when he went to speak with the irate crowd.

French TV underlined the cleverness of Le Pen’s strategy, but some international journalists pointed out that neither Theresa May nor Donald Trump would have had the guts to go and meet the furious employees.

Then on Thursday morning, Le Pen went fishing in the Mediterranean. Macron was quick to jibe that if she was elected, there would soon be no fishing left in France.

But she was too busy doing a bad dolphin impression in front of a TV crew and sceptical-looking fishermen to take much notice.

Tragically, the campaign does not look like it will improve any time soon.

Both candidates are expected to try and use a TV debate on 1 May to convince voters that Joan of Arc, a humble Frenchwoman who was martyred for her country by the English, would have been on their side.

Poor Joan of Arc. But therein lies a real debate on the identity of France.

Macron became an unofficial candidate one year ago, when he celebrated Joan of Arc’s will to set France free. This display of patriotism came as something of a surprise, as the martyr had been co-opted as a National Front figurehead nearly 40 years ago.

The bad news about Joan is that she was also used by the war-like revanchards after the 1870 war with Germany. And her image stoked the flames of WW1.

Can she also be employed as a symbol around which to rebuild a European hope in France?

Apparently, the candidates think she can. But maybe the campaign, and the EU, would benefit by looking forward, rather than defining itself based on ghosts from the distant past.

The Roundup

France’s next president will face tough talks with the European Commission about the country’s deficit. If the Fifth Republic had a US-style electoral college, Marine Le Pen would be tied with Emmanuel Macron. As it stands, he still enjoys a 20 point lead in the polls.

MEPs advocated suspending Turkey’s membership bid. Angela Merkel said she would discuss the issue at Saturday’s EU summit, shortly after she attended the W20 summit in Berlin.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told the European Parliament he is committed to the EU and again accused US billionaire George Soros of “attacking” his country.

Germany joined the hunt for the EU’s UK-based agencies, insisting the European Banking Authority should relocate to Frankfurt because it is mainland Europe’s financial hub and has “better beer”.

European Central Bank governor Mario Draghi has hit out at the “pretty ironic” criticisms of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble. Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem defended his legacy in front of the Parliament.

Spain’s far-left called for a vote of no confidence in Mariano Rajoy. It is unlikely to topple the prime minister but could divide the Socialist Party further.

The Juncker Plan will pump €420 million into over 2,000 small- and medium-sized Greek businesses. The EU executive also published its Urban Water Atlas, a first-of-its-kind tool that reveals the state of water management across Europe.

The Commission will change an EU law on employment contracts by the end of the year in a move to create standards for precarious jobs created by online apps like Uber and Deliveroo.

The White House announced it will not unilaterally withdraw from the NAFTA trade deal. This map shows each US state’s main foreign trading partner. Belgium has strong commercial ties with Delaware.

Former MEP Sir Graham Watson warns that Brexit will only produce “losers”. Jean-Claude Juncker met Theresa May in London yesterday. The Commission president told the UK leader that it’s not realistic to expect Brexit talks to conclude before October 2018.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is a “mutton-headed old mugwump”, in a verbal attack straight out of the 18th century.

Sam Morgan contributed to this Brief.

Look out for…

An informal meeting of EU foreign ministers is expected to focus on Turkey.

Views are the author’s.

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