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We need to think about a Le Pen presidency

“The policy I represent is the policy represented by Mr Trump. You will be represented by Mr. Putin.” That was Marine Le Pen Speaking of 2017. In just two weeks she could be elected President of France.

Le Pen, the flag-bearer of France’s right-wingers, is now through to the finals the presidential election, where she will face President Emmanuel Macron. In the first ballot, Le Pen was less than five percentage points behind Macron. The fact that 57 percent of French voters decided for far-left or far-right candidates in the first round – while the traditional center parties collapsed – looks bad for a centrist incumbent like Macron.

The first poll of voting intentions for the second round shows Macron beating Le Pen by 54 to 46 percent. That will reinforce the view that despite the close race, a Le Pen victory is very unlikely. But the uncomfortable reality is that the far right is now voting at levels that are unprecedented in the history of France after 1945 – and a lot can happen in a two-week campaign.

Rather than ignore Le Pen’s chances, it’s time to seriously consider what her possible win would mean for France and beyond. Is she still a “far-right” politician? Or could a Le Pen presidency be less of a shock to the system than many believe?

The fact that Le Pen is so close to the presidency is a testament to her success in “detoxifying” her image. she broke a few years ago with her father and party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen – who had a long history of open racism. In this election, Marine Le Pen Applied mainly in questions of the cost of living. She has dropped some of the most controversial policies that helped sink her 2017 campaign – like demanding France leave the euro and reintroducing the death penalty. And she has used the Ukraine war to distance herself from Vladimir Putin, claiming that her view of the Russian leader has “changed”.

But Le Pen’s earlier open admiration for Putin and Donald Trump is still telling. Like them, Le Pen claims to represent the people against the elite and the nation against the “globalists.” your campaign slogan – “Give the French their country back” – has strong echoes of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and “Take back control” of the Brexit campaign.

Le Pen’s program still contains a lot of red meat for the extreme right. Their promise to completely ban the wearing of Muslim headscarves in public is utterly illiberal and would be unprecedented in Europe. She claims the police will be in charge of the exhibition fines to all hijab wearers – that sounds like a recipe for constant street confrontation. Already strained relations between police and non-white or Muslim communities were likely to deteriorate further.

The demonstrative French left would probably take to the streets in shock if Le Pen actually won. France is still reeling from the yellow vests (Yellow Vests) protests that turned into riots in 2018-19. It could face social turmoil again. At the other end of the spectrum, a Le Pen victory could scare the financial markets – adding to the sense of crisis.

A bitterly divided France would have repercussions across Europe. The direct consequences of a Le Pen presidency for the EU would also be serious, even life-threatening.

Over the years, French statesmen such as Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman and Jacques Delors have been fundamental in building the European project. But Le Pen is intent on deconstructing the EU. She promises recovery primate of French law over EU law, which is incompatible with membership of the Union of 27 States. She also promises to unilaterally cut France’s contributions to the EU budget.

Within Europe, Le Pen maintains relations with the “illiberal democrats” of Hungary and Poland. She congratulated Hungary’s Viktor Orban on his election victory earlier this month – despite the fact that Orban faces charges by the EU on violating the rule of law, suppressing media freedom and corruption. At best, Le Pen is untouched by Orbán’s sins. In the worst case, she sees them as a role model for France.

With Le Pen in France, Orban’s claim that his illiberal nationalism is the future of Europe would suddenly seem more plausible. Italy’s Matteo Salvini – who, like Le Pen, has cultivated Putin and Trump – would sniff power.

The reactions in Brussels and Berlin to a Le Pen victory would be horrific – probably followed by negotiations. Unable to abandon the EU project, France’s partners would try to soften Le Pen’s policies and somehow make them compatible with continued EU membership.

The British government would be watching with interest from the sidelines. Some hardline Brexiteers would see a Le Pen victory as both a vindication and an opportunity. More reasonable voices in London will fear the fallout for Western unity amid the Ukraine war.

Le Pen is not only an enemy of the EU. she has also called Nato a “warmongering organization” and committed to removing France from its command structure. And she opposes energy sanctions against Russia – ostensibly because they would increase the cost of living in France.

Putin has had a disastrous few weeks. But voters in France could still give him some hope.

gideon.rachman@ft.com

https://www.ft.com/content/f1c99456-84b1-4193-b058-f72d0f738849 We need to think about a Le Pen presidency

Adam Bradshaw

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