Professor: Marine Le Pen has more red lines than Salvini

Christian Lequesne is a professor of political science at Sciences Po (Centre de Recherches Internationals). [Štefan Bako/ EURACTIV Slovensko]

Marine Le Pen will be very cautious in doing business with parties who clearly are anti-Semitic and “she probably had even more red lines than [Italy’s Matteo] Salvini on this”, Dr Christian Lequesne told EURACTIV Slovakia in an interview.

Christian Lequesne is a professor of political science at Sciences Po (Centre de Recherches Internationals). He spoke to EURACTIV Slovakia’s Zuzana Gabrižová.

The declining turnout trend in the European elections has been reversed this time. What is behind this?

We have moved from 42.6 to 51%. The increase in participation is effective in 20 out of 28countries, even in Slovakia, although you still have the lowest rate. To a certain extent, this is the main victory of these European elections. My explanation is that Europe has penetrated the national political debate more than we like to say. That does not mean that everybody is pro-European. But people are concerned about European issues, which play a role in the way domestic politics is being done. The main significance of this increased participation is that people probably understand that the EU has an influence on national politics.

Has the participation increased in France as well?

By 7%, which is enormous. Of course, some of those who decided to vote may have done so for purely domestic reasons. A certain number of opposition parties said this should be an anti-Macron referendum, and there are people who voted because of that. In general, it is a good indication that the French society understands that Europe is part of the political debate.

France was one of the battlegrounds among pro-EU and anti-EU forces. What were the factors behind the victory of Marine Le Pen´s party National Rally over Macron?

President Macron’s political agenda is very proactive in European terms. He really wants to have a message of a continuation of the EU political project with a reform agenda while Le Pen is on the opposite side.

The first element was related to European issues. The second element had to do more with national politics. Macron started a proactive liberal reform agenda for France and that has created a certain number of concerns in a country where the preservation of the welfare state has always been very important. For a certain part of the population, mainly low-middle class leaving in small towns and rural areas, he became the neoliberal enemy. He is not in fact, but this is the image in a country that is very attached to an egalitarian culture.

Do you foresee any repercussion of the EU vote in French politics?

I do not see any huge impact on domestic politics because the difference between Macron and Le Pen´s lists is very small, 0.9 %, and in terms of the number of the seats it is the same, 21 for each. But the main problem is not the European elections, which I will assess as a success for Macron. The problem is to find support for reform in other member states and that problem has already started before the elections.

One thing which will change is the fact that Macron will have the third party in the European Parliament, ALDE, in which his La Republic En Marche, will be number one. He will use it for the decision-making in the EU House. But the European Parliament is not enough to change the EU, the European Commission and the Council remain crucial.

Marine Le Pen was recently hosted in Bratislava by her Slovak political ally in MENF (party Sme Rodina), which did not make it in the EU Parliament. Did she promote these eastern alliances in her campaign? Because the positions of her Slovakian partner go often against what she is promising at home.

Not really, she did not talk so much about that. That is an interesting factor because there is more and more diplomacy of the populist and far-right parties. There is this idea to set up transnational alliances but they cannot really use that in the public discourse back in the countries because their electorate is mostly interested in the defence of the national interest. In far-right parties, you have to remain very national in what you are telling to your electorate. There is a contradiction in the new dynamism and transnationalism and what voters are expecting.

RN will be a dominant party in the nationalistic group in the new European Parliament. Do you see this group accepting Slovak neofascist party LSNS should they apply? Or they have red lines?

RN will have realpolitik concerns on one side – you need a certain number of deputies but also a certain number of nationalities to create a political group in the European Parliament. On the other side, LSNS would go very much against Le Pen’s strategy to give the impression that she is the respectable right, but true right. She will be very cautious in doing business with parties who clearly are antisemitic, who deny Holocaust etc. It is also what she did on the national level, to differentiate from her father. Probably she had even more red lines than Salvini on this.

Do the results of these EU elections distinguish Slovakia from the V4?

I think so. The victory of Progressive Slovakia/Together coalition is something specific because if you take the other ruling parties in the region, they won everywhere. Fidesz is even an exceptional case; it won which 56% (which is really a dubious rate in a modern democracy), PiS in Poland with 45%, ANO a bit less but is number one in the Czech Republic.

There is an exceptional Slovak situation inside the V4 and this has to do with the mobilisation of the society, particularly part of the educated society, after the murder of the journalist and his girlfriend and with real concern about the style of politics which went beyond red lines in terms of corruption. It is the second time I see the capacity of the Slovak society to react like this.

I remember very well Slovakia was not qualified for EU accession negotiation because of Mečiar and you had massive demonstration and Mečiar had to leave. This is saying something about the capacity of the Slovak society to mobilise when democracy is really challenged. So you have to be optimistic because of it, right?

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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