Frexit May Not Yet Be On The Agenda But It Lurks In The Background
Regular polling by Brussels reveals French attitudes towards the EU are regularly the worst or 2nd worst out of EU27
When it comes to trusting the EU, welcoming the Euro and being thankful for the EU’s Covid response the French are less than impressed.
The future of France’s membership in the EU remains at risk just as Emmanuel Macron announces the Presidential election will be a referendum on the EU. It is clearly an attempt to take the argument to his run-off opponent Marine Le Pen. However, if he were to make a slip during the campaign the tactic might just backfire — for French sentiment towards the EU is even lower than that of Greece on some questions.
Marine le Pen
“The British got rid of the Brussels bureaucracy, which they could never bear, to move to an ambitious project of global Britain.
“This is not our project. We want to reform the EU from the inside.
“Nobody is against Europe, I would not stop paying France’s contribution to the EU, I want to diminish it.”
- Marine le Pen, France24 News, 13 April 2022
Photo: Marine le Pen with Polish Prime Minister last year
The current French attitudes give Marine Le Pen some hope her Euroscepticism may pay off
- When asked ‘Do You Trust the EU?’ the lowest recorded score is the French sample — at only 32%
- For the same question, those saying they ‘tend not to trust the EU’ was the 2nd highest of all countries, at 56% (Greece polled 59%)
- Less than half (49%) of the French people are ‘Optimistic’ about the future of the EU — with 46% being ‘Pessimistic’. Again, only Greece has a worse score with only 45% ‘Optimistic’ and 53% ’Pessimistic’, respectively.
- When asked if after twenty years of the Euro it had been positive or negative the French provided the lowest positive (46%) and highest negative (30%) score
- This was worse even than Greece which recorded 56% positive and only 24% negative.
- The Italian score was arguably more critical with 58% positive but 29% negative.
When asked if the Euro had been positive or negative for their own country’s economy three countries said it had been bad:
- Greece: 22% Positive — 55% Negative — net 33% negative.
- France: 37% Positive — 43% Negative — net 6% negative.
- Italy: 43% Positive — 47% Negative — net 4% negative.
On the question of the EU’s Covid response:
- Only 36% of French respondents were satisfied with it — the worst of all nations.
- The ‘unsatisfied’ number was 50% of French respondents — the sixth-worst of all nations.
- Others ‘unsatisfied’ were Greece 60%; Luexmbourg 53%; Czechnia 52%; Slovakia & Slovenia 51%; and Austria 50%.
“I want to speak to you here with the words of the heart, the conviction to tell you why this election is also a referendum on Europe.
“The right-wing candidate proposes a nationalist project, which is not patriotism.
“This nationalist project, and I say it here, a few metres from where François Mitterrand pronounced these words, among the last of his last mandate: ‘Nationalism is war’.
“And so yes, the far-right project is a project to leave the Council of Europe, that is to say to leave our base of values and rights. To leave the Council of Europe is to leave the European Union, since it is its Constitution, its founding principle..”
- President Emmanuel Macron, 14 April 2022
The future of the EU will feature in the French election campaign
Whether Marine le Pen wants to talk about Frexit or not, Emmanuel Macron thinks it is a winning hand and he is going to raise it as a means to scaring-off voters from choosing her to unseat him. Thanks to the Eurobarometer survey carried out by the EU however, we now know this is a high-risk strategy because it is clear the French are falling out of love with the European Union.
Be it trusting the EU as an institution, appreciating the worth of the Euro and Eurozone project, or valuing the EU’s response to Covid, the French have taken a real downer on Brussels’ rule. And who can blame them?
Who is closer to the French public’s view — Macron or le Pen?
Marine le Pen has tried to moderate her past stridency and to some extent, it has worked — with other candidates pitching in with more outspoken views and painting her as the moderate. Her past admiration for Vladimir Putin was being played down even before the invasion of Ukraine. Her links are now difficult for Macron to exploit given his regular contacts and meetings with Putin over the last few months (and clearly to no effect).
Looking at the Eurobarometer le Pen appears far closer to the current French mood and her talk of reform rather than a rejection of the EU might convince enough voters for her to just pip Macron. Interestingly she leads in every age group except the above 55s — with her strongest support coming from the youngest voters (56% of 18–24 year-olds).
Brexit is still reverberating around Europe, and the French elections are evidence of that. If it were to fuel a political change in France, Frexit or not, it would be one of its most unexpected outcomes so far.
Sources: Eurobarometer Survey by EU Commission