5 Brexit lessons from French election

by Paul Taylor | 24.04.2017

Paris: France’s presidential election has turned into a binary choice for or against the EU and globalisation, with pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron almost certain to beat nationalist Marine Le Pen in the May 7 run-off. While each national election is unhappy in its own way, to misquote Tolstoy, there are five takeaways for Britain and its Brexit negotiations from Sunday’s first round of voting:

1. The third populist shoe hasn’t fallen.

Political doom merchants had theorised that after Britain’s vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s victory in the US election, France would be the next country to succumb to nativist populism. It hasn’t happened. Indeed with Le Pen falling short of her own goal of topping the first round, anti-immigration Geert Wilders’ setback in the Dutch election and Germany’s far-right nationalist AfD party weakened by infighting, the populist wave in continental Europe may have passed its peak.

2. It is possible to win elections while being openly supportive of the EU.

Macron confounded many pundits not just by creating his own political movement out of thin air on the wasteland between the French right and left, but by running an explicitly pro-EU campaign appealing to optimism, internationalism and entrepreneurship rather than fear of globalisation or resentment of foreigners.

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3. Frexit cost Le Pen at the ballot box.

Le Pen’s advocacy of withdrawing from the euro and possibly from the EU, with the promise of a renegotiation and a referendum within six months, almost certainly cost her votes. From a peak of around 28% in opinion polls, her support slumped to 21.5% on Sunday. She tried to avoid the euro issue in the last weeks of the first round campaign, saying she would leave the choice to the French people, and focused instead on the National Front’s traditional hobby horses of hostility to immigration and Islam. But her opponents managed to tar her with the “Frexit” brush, hurting her in public opinion. The only candidate who advocated Frexit outright, Francois Asselineau, scored less than 1%.

4. Britain faces a Europhile in the Elysees.

Macron, now the super-favourite, supports much closer European integration, both by strengthening the euro zone with more mutualised institutions and building European defence cooperation, to which the UK has been a persistent obstacle. While he is likely to face domestic obstacles in parliament and from the Gaullist tradition in the political and defence establishment, he will pursue the closest possible ties with Germany and be less interested than Francois Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy in maintaining strong relations with Britain.

5. Macron will eat the City’s lunch

On the Brexit negotiations, Macron’s few public comments have been hardline. He opposes any sweetheart deal to give the City privileged access to the EU’s financial services market once Britain leaves, especially if London is not prepared to maintain free movement of workers and accept the continuing jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. As a former investment banker who speaks fluent English, Macron knows the City well. He would rather see Paris and other European financial centres eat the City’s lunch than offer it a free lunch post Brexit.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

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