Brexit’s long shadow falls on French presidential campaign

The National Front is campaigning to leave the EU. [Front National]

The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU has catapulted the question of EU membership to the forefront of France’s 2017 presidential election campaign, with the right and extreme right leading calls for a referendum. EURACTIV France reports.

“And now, France!” proclaims a new National Front poster, published after the Brexit result. Marine Le Pen’s extreme right and anti-European party, which is campaigning for France to leave the EU, hopes to capitalise on the example set by the UK in the run-up to the 2017 presidential elections.

But since the UK referendum, other parties have joined the National Front (FN) in making EU membership a central theme of their own campaigns. During the debate on the consequences of Brexit in the National Assembly, the country’s European future emerged as the number one issue ahead of the coming presidential elections.

Risky debate

We may have a debate on whether or not France should leave the European Union. This is a fundamental debate,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told MPs on Tuesday (28 June). For the socialist, “this debate will be a powerful dividing line. […] The presidential election will also be an opportunity to settle the issue.”

French calls to rewrite Schengen code fall on deaf ears

European Union leaders called on Thursday for “systematic” checks on travellers entering the passport-free Schengen area but fell short of heeding to French and Spanish demands for rewriting the Schengen border code.

This debate is needed, but it is risky, the prime minister added. “The consequence of a victory for the extreme right would be an exit from the European Union, and so from history itself.”

And the British shock should serve as a warning against the claims of false prophets, he said. “Not talking about Europe means the populists can say whatever they want, […] the Brits are discovering this,” Valls said. But the crisis in the EU has pushed a certain number of politicians, particularly on the right, to jump on the Brexit bandwagon.

Irritated French politicians begin backing Brexit

Most French political parties officially support the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the EU. But cracks in the veneer are beginning to show, as more and more French politicians back Brexit. EURACTIV France reports.

“Not many European populations would respond positively to a referendum on Europe,” said Republican MP Laurent Wauquiez, who has already called for the abolition of the European Commission.

“Organising a referendum on the EU in France today is not a good idea,” said Philippe Vigier, a liberal MP.

Putting an end to ambiguity

One of the few things France’s warring political factions can agree on is the need for the UK to make a quick and clean break from the EU. “It would be absurd and disastrous for the leaders of the United Kingdom to play for time,” said Élisabeth Guigou, the chair of the French parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

“Of course we will continue to cooperate on issues of defence, migration and economics, but Europe also needs clarity. From now on, uncertainty and ambiguity are no longer possible,” the prime minister said.

“The British Conservative Party should not be left to impose its agenda,” he added, to general applause from the chamber. “The United Kingdom must activate the clause in the Lisbon Treaty as soon as possible.”

Brexit stirs up Euroscepticism in the French right

Nominally a supporter of the European project, Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republican party has made increasingly frequent attacks on the European Commission, which it accuses of “pushing out the UK and letting Turkey in”. EURACTIV France reports.

Former Republican prime minister François Fillon also called for France to adopt a firm stance towards the UK. “British MEPs should not be able to vote in the European Parliament, and British civil servants in Brussels should not be able to make decisions,” the presidential candidate said.

Access to the European financial market is another of Fillon’s red lines. “There is absolutely no reason to let them keep the European financial passport,” he said.

The financial hub of the London, the biggest in Europe, could suffer as Brexit makes access to the single market more complicated. Some financial businesses are already considering moving their headquarters to a continental financial centre, like Paris of Frankfurt.

Subscribe to our newsletters