As part of an ongoing series, EURACTIV France is profiling leading candidates in the 2012 French presidential elections, analysing in detail what their political action, programmes and policies mean for the European Union. François Bayrou, the centrist candidate of the Democratic Movement, stresses the national responsibility for fiscal discipline and the European Union’s potential to affirm France’s place in the world, toning down his usual strong Euro-federalist rhetoric.
In a major speech presenting his European policy in Strasbourg on 6 March, the leader of the MoDem asserted that Europe is a necessary condition for French influence.
He said that he wanted “to reinstate the community method”, which provides for a bigger role for EU institutions than member states in policymaking, and ensure that France remains “the great voice which has allowed [Europe] to exist”.
Recalling with pride that France provided a large part of Europe’s “fathers”, such as Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, or Jacques Delors, he considers that it is “in the historic tradition of our country to play an eminent role on the world stage” and that “Europe is the only [support point] to promote our values”.
“Without a strong Europe, France is weakened … In the face of [social and environmental] dumping with which the planet’s giants threaten us … we will not resist alone. Our social pact and our republican project will disappear,” he added.
Though Bayrou considers himself a “federalist” he has a rather nuanced vision of European of integration. “The federalism that I defend is a cooperative type, it is decentralised and respects the nations and freedoms,” he told the blog 27 etc on 16 March.
Bruno Cautrès, a researcher at Sciences Po Paris, said this apparently contradictory vision reflected euroscepticism in France: “[F]or electoral reasons, it is difficult for candidates to speak of real federalism. François Bayrou has to take into account an electorate which doubts more and more in Europe.”
Reciprocity and national preference
Though he comes from a traditionally pro-European movement, Bayrou launched his campaign with calls to “buy French” and to “produce in France”. He has proposed the creation of a “Made in France” label which would indicate the French-made portion of products.
“It’s a symbolic answer to reconcile consumers and producers. We consume more than we produce. Yet the sovereignty of a people depends on the ability to be independent,” said French senator and former member of the MoDem Jean Arthuis.
Robert Rochefort, a French ALDE MEP, argued against a protectionist interpretation saying, “François Bayrou is not against free trade. He invites to buy products made in France and not only products that are by French brands”.
Bayrou, while he stresses the national responsibility for economic success, asserts that the EU has a role to play, notably to enforce the principle of environmental and social reciprocity in trade relations.
“The WTO tolerates the maintenance of protectionist measures in developing countries, but China is a great emerging country and it is not acceptable that it too takes advantage of exemptions from free trade rules,” said Rochefort.
The European Commission has been working for over a year on the question of reciprocity. During a panel discussion in Paris on 13 March, Bayrou said he was not opposed to the idea of a “Buy European Act”. It would open public procurement contracts open to third countries’ companies only if they are also open to European companies.
A Prussian at the Elysée?
For Bayrou, the failure to balance public finances is above all a national responsibility. He promises if elected to make the fight against over-indebtedness the priority of his term in office. He goes so far as to warn against a slippage of public finances that would expose France to a Greek-style scenario.
“It has now been 10 years that I have been warning the French,” he said on 13 February. He was one of first French political leaders to call for the introduction of a balanced budget rule into the constitution.
Bayrou’s positions have then long been in line with the German government’s current emphasis on fiscal discipline and he backs the fiscal compact treaty that was signed at the beginning of March by 25 member states.
He proposes reducing the deficit by €100 billion over the next two years, split evenly between tax increases and spending cuts.
Getting out of the crisis: The need for transparency
The leader of the MoDem has been very critical of the management of the crisis. He wants the European Central Bank to take on the role of a lender of last resort for national governments, backs the European bailout funds, and supports the creation of a tax on financial transactions (FTT).
The latter would be according to him “a genuine instrument to burst the speculative bubble that is burdening our economy”. He has committed to assigning 10% of its revenue to the financing of global public goods such as health and development aid.
The centrist candidate is more circumspect on Eurobonds. This long-term solution to the debt crisis, being considered by Brussels and some European leaders, is not in his programme.
Cautrès said “François Bayrou seems to put forward the question of Eurobonds less … For him, the member states of the EU have spent too much [and] are responsible for their situation”.
Bayrou emphasises fiscal discipline and transparency at the national level. Bound together by a common currency, he said the 17 countries of the eurozone cannot take “a solitary path in the face of great economic and financial decisions”.
To manage interdependence within the eurozone, Bayrou wants genuine transparency on the part of member states on their fiscal situation, guaranteed by the mutual control of governments and the European Court of Auditors.
An elected president of Europe
The candidate has said he is deeply disappointed with today’s Europe, eclipsed by the imposing couple that is Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel. In his programme he calls for a returning to a “balanced” Franco-German relationship which would not be “domineering”.
Lambasting the intergovernmental approach to integration, which to him is doomed to failure, Bayrou wants to revive the community method and combine the positions of president of the European Commission and of the European Council.
This proposal, like others in Bayrou’s programme, is taken from a report by Senator Arthuis on the governance of the eurozone, written at the request of Prime Minister François Fillon. But the president of the MoDem goes further and calls for this president to be elected by direct universal suffrage.
This would reinforce Brussels’s legitimacy in the face of national governments which, according to Bayrou, have up to now “chosen Europeans leader who would not overshadow them”. This new leader of the Union would embody the higher interests of Europe in the face of national interests and “would bring a new authority and legitimacy to the coordination of national policies.”