French candidates clash on EU visions
By Eric Maurice
Candidates in the French presidential elections displayed competing visions for the EU in a TV debate on Tuesday (4 April), with far-right leader Marine Le Pen coming under fire.
After a debate between the five main candidates last month, in which Europe was barely mentioned, the 11 candidates for the election's first round on 23 April joined the TV event on Tuesday.
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The debate included two Trotskyists, a centrist MP who is also a shepherd, a sovereignist, and two anti-EU candidates.
One of them, Francois Asselineau, said he was the "only true candidate for Frexit", the word coined to refer to a French EU exit.
"EU treaties lock us in a social and economic policy that crush the French people," said Asselineau, the leader of the nationalist Popular Republican Union.
His proposition was to trigger the EU's Article 50 to start exit talks as soon as he is elected, which proved too radical even for Le Pen.
The National Front leader told Asselineau he was proposing "a brutal exit".
"The difference between you and me is that I want the French people to decide," she said, explaining that she would first negotiate new terms for France and the EU before organising a referendum.
"I want the French people to decide after negotiations, whatever their results," she said, adding that she would respect the result even if voters decided to stay in the EU.
Le Pen would also want France to leave the euro and to create a parallel national currency.
Francois Fillon, the conservative candidate, said "Le Pen's economic policy will collapse as soon as the French people decide to keep the European currency".
Fillon, who was prime minister from 2007 to 2012 under president Nicolas Sarkozy, said that he wanted a "sovereign France in a sovereign Europe".
"We need Europe," in terms of global competition, he said.
He went on to say that the EU needed to build “a European currency that becomes international, in order to break the dollar's domination and the future domination of the Chinese currency.”
"This is a priority for Europe's sovereignty," he added, also referring to the need to protect the EU's external borders.
Independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, who is neck-and-neck with Le Pen in opinion polls for the first round, also slammed Le Pen’s EU plans.
"What you propose is economic war," Macron, a former economy minister under outgoing president Francois Hollande, told Le Pen.
He said that leaving the euro would slash "savers' and workers' spending power" and destroy jobs in France.
"What you are proposing is nationalism," he also told Le Pen. He said he came from "a region full of cemeteries" - the Somme where one of the First World War's main battles was fought - and that "we have to know where we come from".
"Nationalism is war," he added.
Tit for tat
Le Pen said Macron pretended to be modern, but was "talking like fossils that are at least 50 years old".
"You repeat lies we've heard for 40 years, that we heard already from your father," Macron retorted.
He also said that he wanted to reform the EU "in a constructive dialogue" with Germany and other partners, but dismissed charges that he was "naive".
Hamon, the Socialist candidate, said he was among those who "bet on the European project", as opposed to those who want to abandon it.
He argued that the EU could not continue with austerity policies and that he wanted "the democratisation of the eurozone”.
"I believe that Germany will not be deaf to that demand," he added.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, Hamon's main contender for the leftist vote, defended his "plan A" for a "concerted exit" from the EU treaties, and said that if that was not possible, his "plan B" would be to unilaterally leave the EU
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a right-wing sovereignist, said he wanted to abolish the EU's posted workers directive "on the first day" after his election.
"It's unacceptable that people come from Romania, Poland or Spain and don't pay social charges when our craftsmen, our independent workers pay them," he said.
Le Pen said she had "not voted for the text" in the European Parliament, but did not specify that she had only abstained from the vote.
"I don’t want this directive, even if we respect the law," she said, adding that "I find it deeply unjust because it creates a foreign priority on jobs".