23 April 2017

France`s moment of European Uncertainty

Author: David Batashvili / Source:
France will elect its new President on 23 April and 7 May 2017. The latter date is that of the unavoidable second round – a face-off between the two candidates with the best results from the first. Polls are too close to call, but it is likely that one of those two candidates is going to be Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front (FN). Her potential victory could cause spectacular changes in the international system, potentially more serious than those of the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States.

Primarily, this is because of Le Pen’s stance on the European Union. With an anti-globalist discourse reminiscent of that of Steve Bannon, Le Pen wants France to leave the common currency - Euro, and, more importantly, is campaigning for a referendum on France’s exit from the European Union.

If Le Pen won the presidential election, that would help the political momentum in support of the exit option. The referendum result could then become difficult to call, with unpredictable results. The Brexit supporters were long considered underdogs in the British referendum.

Le Pen has pledged to quit the NATO too. In the context of her broadly anti-globalist agenda, she also opposes other international institutions, such as the IMF and the World Bank. But this is far less important than the FN’s enmity of the EU. NATO can survive without France’s membership – in fact it already did. The European Union cannot.

The EU is alive as long as its Franco-German heart remains intact. Some nations may leave, some might join, and some might change their minds. After all, at the beginning, the European Economic Community included only six countries. But the French and German membership is a prerequisite for a pan-European organization.

France and Germany constitute the core of the EU. They always have, ever since they established the EU’s predecessor organizations in the 1950s. Without either of them, the EU is over and done for. What’ remains might be some other kind of a regional community, but definitely not with the potential of the European Union. As a customs union, visa free zone, and a geopolitical and geoeconomic entity in general, the EU just stops making sense if either of its two core countries leaves.

Fall of the EU would bring a historic shift. The states always have conflicting interests, especially with their neighbors. The basic idea behind the European integration was to limit such disagreements by placing interests of individual nations into a common cooperative framework, to prevent aggressive geopolitical competition that was characteristic of the previous periods of European history. Without the moderating impact of the EU, frictions between various European states probably would gradually grow menacing once again.

A more immediate consequence would be the empowerment of Russia’s imperialism. It is true that the EU’s response to the Russian aggression has not been vigorous enough, especially in the eyes of that aggression’s direct victims, such as Georgia and Ukraine. Nevertheless, over the last couple of years the EU has been awakening to the threat posed by Moscow’s geostrategy. The sanctions and the European policy directed against Russia’s strategic re-expansion constitute a serious problem for the Kremlin. A crippling crisis of the EU could mitigate this barrier. Its complete collapse might remove it completely.

If such collapse came to pass, Russia would be emboldened enough to further step up its empire-building project. Its neighbors, from supposedly allied Belarus to the NATO member Baltic states, would face greater danger of Moscow’s aggressive actions. The probability of a more direct and large-scale military attack against Ukraine would increase considerably.

The overall impact of the EU disintegration in terms of Europe’s regional security would be very negative. Immediately it would increase the risk of serious interstate warfare in Eastern Europe. In the long term, interactions between nations probably would become harsher in the Western Europe as well. Disputes, such as the one about Gibraltar, would get more intense. That is why the stakes in the French presidential election of 2017 are of historic proportions.

Marine Le Pen’s victory in the second round is not very probable. And yet, nothing is impossible. Besides, a major terrorist attack or a scandal on the eve of the election could have a major impact on the outcome. Given immense strategic stakes in this French election, it is certainly a mandatory thing to watch in the next few weeks.

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