Le Pen promises Frexit

Knapps

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06, Feb 2017

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has kicked off her presidential campaign with a promise to shield voters from globalization and make their country "free" by calling for a referendum on exiting EU. In the most unpredictable election race France has known in decades, the National Front hopes the scandal hitting conservative candidate Francois Fillon and the rise of populism across the West will help convince voters to back Ms Pen.

What brings Le Pen to the political centre-stage?

France’s far-right party leader Marine Le Pen vowed “a revolution” if she won the presidential election as she kicked off her campaign with a promise to protect voters from globalization at a time when French politics is in turmoil, bringing her to the political centre stage.

  • The candidate promised a France that controlled its own borders, its own money and had an identity unchanged by immigration, hoping to capitalize on some of the same nationalist forces that swept US President Donald Trump to power last year.
  • Opinion polls see the 48-year old daughter of National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen topping the first round on April 23 but then losing the May 7 run-off to a mainstream candidate.But the previous year offered us a valuable lesson regarding opinion polls - they are just opinions and their science does not capture populist sentiments.
  • In 144 "commitments" published at the start of a two-day rally in Lyon, Le Pen proposes leaving the euro zone, holding a referendum on EU membership, slapping taxes on imports and on the job contracts of foreigners, lowering the retirement age and increasing several welfare benefits while lowering income tax.
  • The manifesto also foresees reserving certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens only, hiring 15,000 police, curbing migration and leaving NATO's integrated command.
  • "The aim of this program is first of all to give France its freedom back and give the people a voice," Le Pen said in the introduction to the manifesto.
  • If elected, Le Pen says she would immediately seek an overhaul of the European Union that would reduce it to a very loose cooperative of nations with no single currency and no border-free area. If, as is highly likely, France's EU partners refuse to agree to this, she would call a referendum to leave the bloc.
  • The electoral manifesto is short on macro-economic details but the FN published its growth and public finances targets.
  • Le Pen and her party are facing their own scandals, including one over assistants in the European Parliament and investigations over her 2012 campaign financing.

Why is Le Pen expected to do better than expected?

Will European politics produce its own “Trumpian surprise” this year - This is the question on the lips of many investment strategists and market commentators as election fever grips Europe’s vulnerable single currency area, with crucial presidential and parliamentary ballots in at least three of the five largest economies in the euro zone.

  • The unexpected decision by Britain to vote to leave the European Union (Brexit) and the upset victory of Donald Trump in the United States presidential election have emboldened populist and nationalist parties across Europe, doing wonders for their transformation from fringe groups to mainstream parties.
  • Opinion polls suggest Emmanuel Macron, a pro-European centrist candidate who is likely to face Le Pen in the presidential election run-off would easily beat Le Pen in the second round, but faith in pollsters has been shaken after they failed to predict Trump's election win or Britain's vote last June to leave the European Union.
  • Former frontrunner Francois Fillon has been damaged by allegations, which he denies, that he paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for work she may not actually have done. A poll on Saturday showed the conservative party slipping to third place in round one.

The collapse of support for the socialist party, the funding scandal engulfing the centre-right candidate and a young and untested independent candidate as the latest frontrunner, has offered Pen’s party a glimmer of hope of winning the election.

  • Jean-Lin Lacapelle, a party official, said:“We were told Donald Trump would never win in the US against the media, against the establishment, but he won . . . We were told Marine Le Pen would not win the presidential election, but on May 7 she will win.”
  • Trump’s US victory blew apart any notion of foregone electoral conclusions, leading Paris’s mainstream politicians to warn that the world’s next political earthquake could happen in France.
  • Le Pen winning the French presidential election in five months’ time – something that had always been seen as impossible – would be the greatest shock in postwar European politics.

When did Le Pen rise in popularity?

  • For most of her life, Marine Le Pen has lived and worked in the shadow of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen who founded the far-right National Front, the party that she now leads.
  • Changing its racist and anti-Semitic image has taken time, determination and a bitter family feud. But Marine Le Pen is now leading the polls ahead of France's upcoming presidential election and is convinced that the National Front's time has finally come.
  • The rise of the National Front has prodded the establishment parties to co-opt and address the issue of French identity. And the now undeniable permanency of the far right has made the coming months decisive for the political class.
  • Marine Le Pen has stormed into the lead in the latest opinion polls and is now favourite to win the first round of the French presidential election. New polls have indicated that Ms Le Pen would beat either of the two conservative candidates in May’s vote.

She has worked her way up the ranks.

  • Her talent for public speaking led her to study law and then, in 1998, to a role as a legal adviser to her father's party. As she rose through its ranks - becoming vice-president, a member of the European Parliament and then a member of parliament in France - she also tried to soften the party's image. This led to tension with her outspoken father.
  • After first joining the FN in 1986, Ms Le Pen became head of its legal department in 1998, and in 2004 was elected as an MEP.
  • She took over leadership of the FN after her father and the party’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen stepped down in January 2011.He was later expelled from the far-right movement by his own daughter after he said the Holocaust was “a detail of history”.
  • In 2012 she came third in France's presidential election, winning a higher percentage of votes than her father received when he finished second in 2002.
  • On a number of different issues, Le Pen's positions mirror closely those of Donald Trump - and she believes that his victory in the American election will clear the way for her own in France.

Where does the support of Frexit come from?

Britain’s historic vote to leave the EU has sparked calls for a French exit, or Frexit, from the European Union. The British public voted for a Brexit, or British exit, during a historic EU referendum in June 2016.

  • Eurosceptic populists across Europe are now calling for their own countries to follow Britain’s example by voting to quit the EU.

Marine Le Pen, as the head of the far-right National Front party, is leading calls for French independence from Brussels regime.

  • The Brussels Regime is a set of rules regulating which courts have jurisdiction in legal disputes of a civil or commercial nature between individuals resident in different member states of the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
  • Ms Pen has declared that she is ‘Madame Frexit’ and has promised to hold a EU referendum within six months if she gets into power this year.
  • She says that calls for referendums are “ringing throughout” Europe in the wake of the Brexit victory in the UK last week.
  • More than 60% of French people view the EU unfavourably, according to the latest research by US think tank Pew Research Center.Over half of French voters also want their own in/out referendum on EU membership, found another survey by the University of Edinburgh. In a fresh blow to the EU, 53 per cent of the French voted in favour of holding a UK-style referendum on the country’s membership.
  • But a struggling economy and a faltering government has fuelled a rising Eurosceptic sentiment in France, as well as an escalating migrant crisis and a surge in popularity for the far-right FN.
  • And with France’s neighbours across the English Channel winning negotiations with Brussels, many French voters are asking why their government cannot do the same.

Who stands in her way to power?

  • National opinion polls indicate that Le Pen is leading the candidates ahead of the spring vote, with only the Republican, Francois Fillon, anywhere near her. But a growing controversy over the alleged payment of parliamentary funds to his wife for a no-show job threatens to damage Fillon's campaign.
  • Mr Fillon, who was prime minister under president Nicolas Sarkozy for five years, was this weekend facing mounting pressure from his own conservative camp to withdraw from the presidential race which has become the most unpredictable campaign France has known in decades.
  • And a fragmented political landscape will make it hard for any of the other candidates to stand up to Le Pen.

Only Emmanuel Marcon, the former economy minister and independent candidate, has any realistic chance of getting a sufficient number of voters behind him.

  • Macron, 39, a clean-cut former investment banker who has never held elected office, kicked off the weekend with a rally at a sports centre in the south of Lyon attended by a largely youthful and often ecstatic crowd come to hear the man who promises to smash the “complacency and emptiness” of the French political system.
  • Macron, who was economy minister until he resigned last summer to launch his presidential bid, has been accused of being vague about his plans - and how to finance them - to resolve the mass unemployment, inequality, terror threats and fears of globalisation that plague France.

For now, though, Marine Le Pen is the only candidate that pollsters say is certain of getting through to the second round of voting.

  • Just as in 2002, the last time her party made it to the second round, she will face the "republican front" that will gather behind the opposing candidate in a determined effort to keep the National Front away from power. Until now, this strategy has proven effective, both nationally and regionally.
  • She is hoping to profit from political turmoil to score a Donald Trump-style upset and promises to shield voters from globalization and make France "free."

How radical are her views?

Here are the main proposals from Le Pen's election manifesto:

6 months to renegotiate the EU or go for “Frexit ".

  • Election to be immediately followed by six months of talks with EU partners with the aim to radically change France's membership and turn the bloc into a loose cooperative of countries: no more euro, border-free area, EU budget rules or pre-eminence of EU law. Le Pen to recommend leaving if does not manage to radically change the bloc. Most likely scenario is therefore "Frexit."

Protectionism

  • Public procurement to be open only to French firms as long as the price difference is not too big. Le Pen's adviser Jean Messiha told the FN wants to force retailers to hold a certain percentage of French goods on their shelves.
  • To rebuild France's industrial base, sellers of imported goods would not be allowed to pass on all of the value-added sales tax to consumers as they do now, Messiha said.
  • Reject international trade treaties.

Lower taxes, better welfare

  • 10 percent cut to income tax on three lowest revenue bands
  • Cut payroll tax for very small and medium-sized businesses and lower the corporate tax rate for SMEs.
  • Lower retirement age to 60 from the current 62, increase aids to the poorest of the elderly. Give child benefits to all without conditions of resources. Cut by 5 percent the regulated price of gas and electricity.

National Preference

  • Reserving certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens only, which would be put to voters via referendum. Employers who hire foreigners to pay a tax worth 10 percent of the salary paid to those people.

Security, Defence

  • Hire 15,000 police, build jails to make room for another 40,000 inmates. Automatically expel foreigners who have been condemned in court. Also expel all foreigners that are monitored by intelligence services for links with radical Islam. Close all mosques suspected of links with radical Islam.

Immigration

  • Make it impossible for undocumented migrants to legalize their stay in France. Curb asylum to requests made abroad, in French consulates. Make it much harder to become a French citizen - being born in France would give no right to citizenship anymore. Curb migration to a net 10,000 people per year. Stop giving free basic healthcare to illegal migrants.

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Tags | European Union French globalization