This article is part of our special report French presidential election: Where does Europe fit into all this?.
Éric Zemmour, the fiery far-right candidate in the French presidential elections, chose to clarify his anti-immigration-focused vision of Europe in Calais. While he will not advocate for Frexit, he will try to renegotiate the Schengen agreement and, “if necessary”, withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. EURACTIV France reports.
Choosing Calais was no coincidence. With its “migrants, dirt, delinquency”, it symbolises the EU’s failure and is a “city ruined by Schengen and the apocalyptic management of Europe” and its borders, Zemmour said in a speech in Calais on Wednesday (19 January).
Immigration and populist rhetoric
One of Zemmour’s priorities at the EU level includes renegotiating the Schengen agreements on the passport-free area of the EU and other conventions governing immigration. If the renegotiations do not succeed, he will simply “not respect Schengen”, he added.
In his programme, Zemmour also stated that the EU flag will never again be flown without the French flag, a reference to the controversy caused by the European flag hanging below the Arc de Triomphe earlier this year to mark the start of the French EU presidency.
On the EU anthem, he said that “none of this exists” and that “it was not Europe that made peace [but] peace that made Europe”.
Zemmour, like the other far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, did, however, stress that he does not want to leave the EU. If elected, however, he confirmed that he would defend France’s interests “first and foremost”.
He also criticised the EU more generally, saying it “is not a nation”, and complained that it wants to “impose Western progressivism” on countries like Hungary and Poland.
The EU is an entity that lacks borders and is “directed by abstract elites”, which “tears up its own roots and erases its own history”, he said, noting that any EU enlargement process must be stopped.
According to him, the European Union should become a “Europe of Nations”, with the sovereignty of member states taking centre stage. This should work against the “chimaeras”, which include the “Europe of power” and the “social Europe” advocated by President Emmanuel Macron, he added.
A fight from within
Dispelling any notion that France should leave the bloc, Zemmour clarified that he prefers to lead the fight from within the EU institutions, which he says are “without body, without head and without soul.”
Regarding the European Commission, in particular, he wants to ensure it is no longer authorised to “extend its powers endlessly outside the treaties”.
On the relationship between EU and national law, he aims to restore the primacy of French law over EU law by revising Article 55 of the Constitution to restore “the original principle of European construction, which is the principle of subsidiarity [of European law]”.
The far-right candidate also promises to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe – “if necessary”, even though he is aware of the possible sanctions against France if it were to go against supranational law.
This does not come as a surprise from someone who considers the rule of law to have “become a screen for the government of judges”.
Free trade agreements and the euro
Zemmour also proposes to establish a “European public procurement mechanism”, under which states would have access, in part, to national companies.
On the euro, Zemmour is now more pragmatic than he used to be in his books. “Joining the euro was a bad idea, leaving it would be worse”, he now said.
Free trade agreements with non-EU states will automatically be vetoed, he added, as they would prevent the protection of French companies and farmers.
Similar to Le Pen’s programme
Zemmour’s EU discourse corresponds more or less to the classic vision of France’s nationalist right-wing and far-right camps. The eery similarity with the programme Le Pen has been pushing for years is striking.
Zemmour’s vision of Europe goes, therefore, against the current models and refers mainly to his opponents – President Emmanuel Macron and the conservative candidate in presidential elections, Valérie Pécresse.
His “Europe of nations” project often refers to a smaller Europe of the past, where members were fully sovereign, more powerful and cooperated in harmony.
Immigration, the only issue for which Zemmour really relies on the EU, must be stopped to avoid what he calls the “replacement” of the Old Continent’s population.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]