The second round of the French Presidential Election is due to take place on Sunday the 24th of April, where centrist and pro-European incumbent Emmanuel Macron hopes to beat back the tides of Eurosceptic right-wing populism embodied by Marine Le Pen. Europe and Ireland cannot afford another Brexit-style shock to European power structures and domestic economies. Ireland is particularly vulnerable in that France is our largest EU trading partner, the relationship encompassing €28 billion of bilateral trade annually.
Beyond economic realities, France has become a key ally to Ireland in relation to Brexit, alongside a deeply shared belief in European integration held by our two respective governments. Marine Le Pen is the antithesis of our commonalities as nations; Eurosceptic, Putin friendly, deeply xenophobic and isolationist. Historically, France inspired our independence, the values of liberté, égalité, fraternité are echoed in our own proclamation of independence read Easter week 1916 and in our own aspirations for the future of this country. Le Pen deeply opposes those bedrock ideals with a publicly casual nature while promoting a semi-autocratic model which undermines the liberal-democratic way of life.
Under a Le Pen Presidency there would be no French acceptance of the primacy of EU law, setting one of Europe’s leading military and economic powers on a collision course with the institution at the centre of the greatest peace process in human history. Policies such as “national priority”, whereby French citizens are granted priority to jobs and social services, undermines several key principles of the Schengen area and European Union membership itself. What does Europe look like in a world where France turns its back on the European shared labour market? It’s hard to see how the institutions of the EU could survive unscathed from such a fundamental attack on her core mechanisms.
Marine Le Pen’s foreign policy is also distinctly anti-Western and blatantly isolationist, seeking to reduce France’s role in NATO whilst cutting most ties with the European Union. It is just another disturbing example of the European far-right conveniently acting in ways which benefit Putin and his deeply militarised nation while advocating for policies which directly strengthen dictatorial rule abroad. For example, Le Pen recently questioned the wisdom of France supplying Ukraine with weapons to hold off the Russian invasion. Claiming it would draw France into a direct military confrontation.
Interestingly, Le Pen’s party borrowed €9.4 million from a now disbanded Putin-aligned Czech-Russian bank in 2014, following the acquisition of these funds, National Rally became visibly more pro-Russian. In fact, Le Pen’s relatively recent campaign materials feature an image of her standing proudly next to Vladimir Putin himself. Preceding the 2017 French election she travelled to Moscow to meet with Putin personally. For a leader who says she wants to cement French independence, sovereignty and nationalism she very much seems to have a very keen affinity for the despotic regional power which has sent its army to slaughter innocent people in a rising European democracy.
Le Pen’s links to Orbán, Trump and Salvini emphasise the collaborative nature of the far-right in the West. All of these leaders have given each other strong endorsements at various stages in recent years. All of them have softly and not so subtly endorsed Putin in different ways. All of them have tried to chip away at the democratic institutions which make Europe such a peaceful, free and prosperous continent. The populist, autocratic right is rapidly outmanoeuvring liberals in a manner which should frighten democrats across the world, there is a level of co-operation and common interest which threatens to push the autocratic model to the forefront of geopolitics. Take the example of the Conservative Political Action Conference, which has heavy links to the US Republican Party, going on the road to Budapest in May to support the recently re-elected Viktor Orbán. The most pro-Russian leader in the EU. Such a move would have been unimaginable a decade ago, during the Cold-War it would have been almost criminal. Today, it is a reality which we have to come to terms with, a reality we have to fight through reasoned political engagement in moderate democracies.
Marine Le Pen will likely lose, but only if the French left-wing turns up to vote Macron. Macron is a politician with vision, a love for Europe, a belief in multilateralism and pluralism. External factors pushing unprecedented inflation must be stated as such, you cannot vote away the worst global supply chain breakdowns, crop shortages and fuel shortages in recent memory. Every G7 nation is experiencing the same crushing rises in cost of living, we cannot allow the populists to manipulate this climate to seize power to advance autocratic interests which damage Europe and Ireland.
If Le Pen wins this French election, it will be the greatest travesty of The Fifth Republic and the most serious challenge to The European Union in its history. The only way to beat back these right-wing populist autocratic candidates, which will surely strongly re-emerge in the coming years as the world becomes more unstable, is to proudly promote a pan-European liberal-democratic identity centred around the institutions of the EU and the ideals which sparked The Age of Revolution. It will require the revival of a well-organised global liberal movement which has broken down since the 2000s. We are emerging into a great power struggle which threatens to consume democratic Europe and place dictatorial, dystopian powers like China, Russia and India at the summit of world dominance. They will only be defeated through organisation, by ending the mistaken experiment of making political moderation a synonym for inaction. Moderation can only exist in societies where the extremes are discredited and exposed for the illiberal and regressive movements which they are. We are rapidly learning the cost of moderate inaction and the tolerance of autocracy in Europe, today it is Ukrainian blood and democracy; who will it be tomorrow?