After the United Kingdom’s unexpected decision to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s surprise triumph in the US presidential election last year, you might imagine that Europe’s chancelleries have developed detailed contingency plans for a victory by the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election. You’d be wrong.
It seems that the thought of President Le Pen is so terrifying, posing such a threat to the future of Europe, that it remains for many a possibility they dare not entertain, much less plan for. But that threat is precisely why Europe must address her potential victory seriously, however unlikely it may seem.
There is no doubt that, as President of France, Ms. Le Pen could do serious damage to the European project. She has positioned herself as the antithesis of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and pledged to leave the EU’s border-free Schengen Area and the eurozone. As for the EU itself, she promises to follow in the UK’s footsteps, renegotiating the terms of her country’s membership, and then calling a referendum on the agreement. If the EU rejects the reforms Ms. Le Pen demands, she will campaign for a French exit.
But there would be important differences between Brexit and Frexit. Whereas many UK euroskeptics envision a global Britain trading with the world, Ms. Le Pen wants to introduce protectionist policies. In lieu of openness, Ms. Le Pen – who now casts herself as a Gaullist – wants to deepen “great power” relations with Russia and the United States, as she focuses on defending “traditional” Christian values and fighting terror in the context of a multipolar world order.
To support those objectives, Ms. Le Pen promises to increase French defense spending to 3 percent of GDP (the NATO target is 2 percent) while making it clear to voters that none of that spending would support stabilization missions in Africa. In this sense, a National Front victory would amount to a rupture not just with the European mainstream, but also with France’s strategic orientation over the last few decades.