Moscovici: French election ‘a referendum on Europe’

European commissioner in charge of Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici gives a press conference at the end of weekly meeting of the European commission to present " European Semester Winter Package" in Brussels, Belgium, 22 February 2017. [Olivier Hoslet / EPA]

The French presidential election run-off will offer a clear-cut choice between two radically opposed visions of France and Europe, said EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici, in an unusual departure from the reserve imposed on EU officials.

Speaking to French journalists in Brussels on Monday (24 April), Moscovici adopted a clear stance for the French election run-off taking place on 7 May.

Referring to Emmanuel Macron, who came out on top of the polls in the first round, Moscovici said: “No vote should fail him. He will have mine. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron, for Europe and against the National Front.”

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The choice, according to Moscovici, was an easy one to make given the election run-off on 7 May will oppose “two visions of France and Europe” – a vision of tolerance and openness versus one which is inward-looking, violent and riddled with xenophobia.

And “because the fight against far-right populism and nationalism is also my personal fight as a left-wing man and a pro-European,” Moscovici added.

“This election will be a referendum on Europe,” he stressed.

Moscovici’s stance echoes the position taken by Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate, who also backed Macron on Sunday after his defeat became clear. Although Moscovici hails from the same French Socialist Party, he did not back Hamon during the election because EU commissioners are not supposed to interfere in national politics.

This time is different however, because the election run-off will feature a far-right candidate who clearly advocates leaving the EU and the euro zone – a red line for the European Commission, Moscovici said.

“This Commission assumes its anti-populist stance,” Moscovici told journalists. “When there is a referendum on Europe, we don’t have to stay silent”.

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Asked about the significance of the defeat for the French Socialist Party, the French commissioner admitted it was “an electoral earthquake”. France’s socialists were narrowly defeated in 2002 by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, who entered the runoff round only to lose to Jacques Chirac by a landslide.

However, the National Front has grown its slice of the electoral pie significantly since 2002, securing over 21.4% of votes in the first round against 16.8% in 2002.

“This is rather scary: 7 million French people actually voted [for her],” Moscovici pointed out, warning that Macron “won’t be elected with 82% of votes”, unlike Jacques Chirac in the 2002 runoff.

“Things have changed considerably” since 2002, Moscovici warned, adding that tensions within French society are stronger than they were 15 years ago and that the FN vote has since been “trivialised”.

‘Ready to relaunch Europe’

For the European Commission, this means maintaining a sense of urgency in reforming the EU, Moscovici said, warning about the false sense of relief which came with Macron’s strong showing in the first round.

Looking forward, Moscovici said the priority now for Europe was to “hear” the pleas of the French people who feel disenfranchised by globalisation, saying the Commission “stands ready to relaunch Europe” after the German elections in September.

“I am convinced that social policies need to be the top priority” if Europe wants to beat far-right populism, Moscovici said, calling on the future French and German leaders to find compromises to relaunch the European project.

“Tomorrow, as has always been the case in the EU’s history, the leaders of France and Germany will have to define together a new deal for Europe,” Moscovici said.

The lingering tension between current French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggests there is considerable work ahead in order to rebuild a relationship of trust.

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