The Divergence Of French Politics In The Light Of Brexit

The consequences of the Brexit have already begun to impact European domestic politics, most prominently in France. With the 2017 French presidential election recently appearing in international news headlines, the future of France’s relationship with the European Union remains to be contested. The future of Paris, in light of the Brexit, further stimulates questions of the attractiveness of the French financial sector to international investors. In addition to navigating the complexities of the idyllic European project, it is essential that the French address the underlying issue of identity that is gaining considerable force in the form of right wing politics.

The Brexit has intensified doubts of the European Union’s legitimacy as a regional entity, a topical issue that is dominating current French politics. The French, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, are more Eurosceptic than the British with just 38% of the population welcoming the future of France as a member of the European Union. President François Hollande has continually advocated for the nation’s membership of the European Union and voices his idyllic concept of “Europe” as a powerful and influential intergovernmental organisation. In fact, a reason Hollande was elected as President in 2012 was because of his promise to create a stronger Europe that would both reap benefits for France and neighbouring countries. However, President Hollande’s promotion of the European project is quickly manifesting into a negative campaign topic for the 2017 presidential election. The political turbulence of the past decade continues to cast doubt on the benefits of the EU, which is an important development in French politics as France, alongside Germany, is a central actor within the union.

Parties of both the French far left and far right are calling for a re-definition of Europe, one that is able to cope diplomatically with the complexities of the 21st century, albeit by entirely different means. Former Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is a famous conservative name among such politicians vocalising the need to re-structure the European Union. Although Sarkozy will need to survive the November primary race, his confirmed bid for the 2017 presidency adds a further dimension to the increasingly layered French political environment. Sarkozy is latching onto the already emerging instabilities caused by the Brexit to champion his case for France’s continuing involvement with EU. Revision of both the Maastricht Treaty and the Schengen Accords is suggested by Sarkozy to solve the shortcomings of the European Union and create decisive action on threats to the region, namely immigration and terrorism.

Alternatively, the rise of the far right is a concerning development in European politics as parallels to the rhetoric of 20th century tyrants are evoked. In addition to the rise of the Freedom Party in Austrian politics, Marine Le Pen is re-shaping French politics in her outright disapproval of the European project. As leader of the far right National Front, Marine Le Pen is celebrating the Brexit as she views the historic event as the catalyst for the disintegration of the European Union. Le Pen’s long-held scepticism of the EU forms the basis of her presidential campaign as she proposes a “Frexit” if she is elected as the next French President. Weakening public support for the European Union is embodied in Le Pen’s proposals, as she states that a national referendum for the “Frexit” will be held within the first six months of her leadership, with the Brexit acting as a powerful precedent. Le Pen thus supports the revival of the traditional state system in which Westphalian state sovereignty is protected and the pursuit of collective interests is minimised. The anti-immigrant approach of Le Pen threatens the survival of the European Union and its noble vision for international cooperation and stability to benefit all member states. However, the almost instantaneous economic downfall of the Brexit questions the necessity of such a dramatic French departure from the EU. Furthermore, the European question will hardly be solved by the nations’ neglect for regional political and economic collaboration.

The policies of the French far right highlight the disunity of the nation and the need for a capable leader that will strive to create more certainty and stability in France. However, such radical policies challenge the values of liberté, equalité and fraternité, as championed in the French Revolution, as right wing parties tend to obsess over national interests and the collective good rather than benefiting individual rights and freedoms. Considering that terrorist attacks in Paris have weakened public support of the French government, it is reasonable to anticipate that President Hollande will seek to fortify European strategies to prevent conflict and maintain peace. However, it is important to acknowledge that a fractured national identity is a contributing to source to the disunity of the French population. Such a concern divides the public on national issues such as membership of the European Union, a reality only too clearly illuminated by the Brexit. Socialist policies have deepened the divergence of public opinion, culminating in the issue of identity as an underlying factor in French political affairs.

In addition, to the changing political atmosphere that now challenges the legitimacy of the European Union, economic developments of the Brexit have had a monumental impact on France. The result of the Brexit last week implies that London will no longer operate as the financial hub of Europe, with Paris suggested as its replacement. This opens up an interesting aspect to consider within French politics as the establishment of Paris as the economic center of the region is dependant on the nation remaining a member of the European Union. Despite developing anti-European sentiment in France, Parisian officials have quietly been promoting their financial sector to attract bankers. In the hours following the Brexit, French officials issued 4000 letters to investors in an attempt to convince them of the benefits of transferring the capital of economic activity from London to Paris. Gérard Mastrallet, director of the Paris Europlace, has stressed the competency of the Parisian financial sector, revealing the mounting competition to become the European economic capital. Although Paris has several European banks and economic experts, other cities are vying for the position, namely Frankfurt and Amsterdam. The opportunity for a shift in the European balance of power, created by the Brexit, will undoubtedly shape French economics for the foreseeable future. Once again, an economic issue entails deeper political complexities that both Hollande and the 2017 President will need to overcome.

A nuanced perspective is, therefore, essential in order to comb through the complications of the French political environment. The Brexit can be interpreted as a symptom of the European Union’s operational flaws, yet it is important that a “Frexit” is not proposed as a hasty reaction to the United Kingdom’s impending independence from the organisation. Only once regional tensions have simmered should President Hollande and the elected 2017 President consider a withdrawal from the European Union, after carefully considering its ramifications and formulating a “Plan B”. Whilst it can be expected for the country to act to benefit its national interests, France must also consider the collective profits the European Union offers. Perhaps it is necessary for the French public, financial sector and politicians to remember why the European Union was created before impulsively fighting against it.

Charlotte Owens