25th Mar 2023


Le Pen's new EU rhetoric masks same old ideas

  • Marine Le Pen (centre in front row) in her time as an MEP (Photo: European Parliament)
Listen to article

In her main French presidential election manifesto, Marine Le Pen is rather grandiloquent, but also lacking in detail on Europe.

Her party's "presidential project" speaks about the "progressive substitution" of the European Union by a European Alliance of Nations. There is not much more by way of concrete points.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The vagueness of the proposal is striking, perhaps even too obvious, but it is also convenient for her party. No big words about Frexit, just talk of "progressive substitution", which means little by itself.

But that is not the end of the story.

Less visible, in her other pre-election documents — her project on immigration — there is another proposal, one about the primacy of the French constitution and of national law over EU law.

The choice of words is not casual, as the European Union is founded, precisely, on that concept: the primacy of European Union law over national law is the cornerstone of European integration. And Le Pen's "national primacy" negates this.

Le Pen's strategy is not very imaginative. Much less is it new. Not least because the Polish Constitutional Tribunal recently made use of it to legitimise Polish backsliding on EU norms.

The same idea has also featured in other eurosceptic manifestos in recent years — even in Le Pen's own party.

In 2019, its manifesto for the European Parliament elections called for a restoration of national law over that of supranational institutions.

Still further back in time, in 2007, her party (then called the National Front and led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen) proposed re-establishing the primacy of national law over the secondary law of the European Union.

But even if Marine Le Pen's constitutional euroscepticism is not new, it is not innocuous either. Rather the opposite — it has the potential to be more successful electorally and, at the same time, just as damaging for the European Union as France leaving the EU.

At the end of the day, constitutionalism is deservedly prestigious in democracies.

And in turning constitutionalism against the European Union, Le Pen is exploiting that principle to put it at the service of her euroscepticism. It is easier to sell constitutionalism than it is leaving the EU.

Constitutional euroscepticism is not a soft, but a very hard form of rejection of the European project and eurosceptics have learnt to be subtle, indirect, and ambiguous.

They have had to. The citizens of member states are generally supportive of the European Union.

They have witnessed the pains of Brexit in the United Kingdom. The mere mention of leaving the European Union can be electorally costly for eurosceptic parties, and the implementation of such a proposal costly for their nations.

Probably because of this, many eurosceptics no longer explicitly propose leaving the EU. Instead, they often resource to more imaginative strategies and exploitation of constitutionalism is one of these.

As a political strategy, constitutional euroscepticism is marked by a paradox and a secret.

This is the paradox: It uses a powerful, appealing language and has the potential to inflict great damage to European integration. But at the same time, it is based on a weakness — the lack of appeal of euroscepticism to most voters, which forces politicians like Le Pen to obfuscate their real intentions.

The secret is even more interesting: constitutional euroscepticism is actually not about genuine constitutionalism.

Real constitutionalism is about democracy, checks and balances, human rights, and rule of law — these values are compatible with the European Union, which has the potential to reinforce them.

Eurosceptics, on the other hand, as in France, Hungary, or Poland, often have other priorities which actually go against these values.

And so, constitutional euroscepticism is a sham.

Author bio

Pablo Castillo-Ortiz is a senior lecturer in law at the University of Sheffield in the UK and currently a visiting fellow at the University of Copenhagen.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

French voters urged to shun Le Pen in run-off

Several failed candidates in French elections have urged their voters to back president Emmanuel Macron in the second round to keep out far-right contender Marine Le Pen.

Macron has delivered for his supporters

To his opponents, Emmanuel Macron is a "president of the rich" or a panderer to Islamophobes. If the polls are right, and he nevertheless wins reelection this month, they'll insist it was due to the weakness of his opponents

EU's new critical raw materials act could be a recipe for conflict

Solar panels, wind-turbines, electric vehicle batteries and other green technologies require minerals including aluminium, cobalt and lithium — which are mined in some of the most conflict-riven nations on earth, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, and Kazakhstan.


Okay, alright, AI might be useful after all

Large Language Models could give the powers trained data-journalists wield, to regular boring journalists like me — who don't know how to use Python. And that makes me tremendously excited, to be honest.

How much can we trust Russian opinion polls on the war?

The lack of Russian opposition to the Russo-Ukrainian War is puzzling. The war is going nowhere, Russian casualties are staggering, the economy is in trouble, and living standards are declining, and yet polls indicate that most Russians support the war.

Latest News

  1. EU's new critical raw materials act could be a recipe for conflict
  2. Okay, alright, AI might be useful after all
  3. Von der Leyen pledges to help return Ukrainian children
  4. EU leaders agree 1m artillery shells for Ukraine
  5. Polish abortion rights activist vows to appeal case
  6. How German business interests have shaped EU climate agenda
  7. The EU-Turkey migration deal is dead on arrival at this summit
  8. Sweden worried by EU visa-free deal with Venezuela

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality
  5. Promote UkraineInvitation to the National Demonstration in solidarity with Ukraine on 25.02.2023
  6. Azerbaijan Embassy9th Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting and 1st Green Energy Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us