France

1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament elections

Euroscepticism moving to the centre of the political culture

France has tra­di­tion­al­ly known two dif­fer­ent strands of pub­lic euroscep­ti­cism: The first one is
based on sov­er­eign­ty and an unre­con­struct­ed nation­al­ism, voic­ing a prin­ci­pled oppo­si­tion
against Euro­pean inte­gra­tion as such. It defends the posi­tion that France can only pre­serve its
nation­al iden­ti­ty by refrain­ing from fur­ther pool­ing of com­pe­tences and by recov­er­ing the lost
sov­er­eign­ty on vital issues such as mon­e­tary pol­i­cy. The sec­ond ver­sion of pub­lic
euroscep­ti­cism is not opposed to inte­gra­tion as such, but express­es oppo­si­tion against the
polit­i­cal direc­tion which the Euro­pean Union cur­rent­ly takes. It is thus more ide­ol­o­gy-based and
issue-ori­ent­ed than the first trend. The sov­er­eign­ty-based euroscep­ti­cism has its strong­hold on
the polit­i­cal right, where­as the sec­ond one can be tra­di­tion­al­ly iden­ti­fied with the left.
Both ten­den­cies have been par­tic­u­lar­ly vocal in the last months. The far-right Front Nation­al has
voiced fierce oppo­si­tion to vir­tu­al­ly all aspects of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion on the grounds of
nation­al sov­er­eign­ty. In addi­tion, far-left oppo­nents of the Gov­ern­ment cen­tered around the
Front de Gauche have heav­i­ly crit­i­cized the Euro­pean Union’s per­ceived neo-lib­er­al ten­den­cies,
its lack of a social dimen­sion, and the pres­sure it applies to nation­al gov­ern­ments to pur­sue
macro­eco­nom­ic poli­cies exclu­sive­ly aimed at finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty.

The recep­tiv­i­ty of pub­lic opin­ion to such ideas has also led politi­cians of the cen­tre par­ties to
express euroscep­tic ideas, with the EP elec­tions approach­ing and opin­ion polls announc­ing
gains for the Front Nation­al. Espe­cial­ly among the cen­tre-right UMP (the par­ty of for­mer
pres­i­dent Nico­las Sarkozy), lead­ing fig­ures have pub­licly stressed the sig­nif­i­cance of intra-state
fron­tiers in an age of alleged­ly uncon­trolled migra­tion and transna­tion­al crime. Right-wing
politi­cians pas­sion­ate­ly defend­ing the idea of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion, as Alain Jup­pé did in an
inter­view for Le Monde, became a rar­i­ty in the run-up to the EP elec­tions. On the oth­er side of
the polit­i­cal are­na, mem­bers of the gov­ern­ment like Arnaud Mon­te­bourg allied him­self with left­wing
euroscep­ti­cism when he con­demned the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion as “bug­gers”, for forc­ing
the whole of Europe into a dis­as­trous aus­ter­i­ty pol­i­cy.

EP elections dominated by public euroscepticism and a domestic crisis

The elec­tions to the EP took place only sev­en weeks after the munic­i­pal elec­tions of March
2014. Those had been shaped by two nation-wide ten­den­cies: Sig­nif­i­cant loss­es for the
Social­ist Par­ty, which lost their major­i­ty in 151 towns of more than 10,000 inhab­i­tants; and gains
for the Front Nation­al, now being rep­re­sent­ed by a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of coun­cil­lors in sev­er­al towns and gov­ern­ing 12 of them. The imme­di­ate con­se­quence of the Social­ist defeat in the
munic­i­pal elec­tions was a reshuf­fling of the gov­ern­ment, with the replace­ment of Prime Min­is­ter
Jean-Marc Ayrault by the Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or, Manuel Valls. The new head of gov­ern­ment
promised stronger polit­i­cal lead­er­ship, clear­er pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties and bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion in order
to increase the dis­as­trous­ly low approval rates of the Social­ist admin­is­tra­tion. How­ev­er, the
unfa­vor­able eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion with stymied growth and ris­ing unem­ploy­ment did not help to
increase the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the gov­ern­ment, but rather con­firmed vot­ers in their impres­sion that
France was under­go­ing a deep social and moral cri­sis.

The results of the EP elec­tions reflect­ed both the unpop­u­lar­i­ty of the gov­ern­ments as well as the
per­ceived moral cri­sis of the coun­try. For the first time in a nation-wide elec­tion, the extreme
right par­ty Front Nation­al received the largest share of votes with 24.85% and 24 seats, thus
dis­tanc­ing itself from the cen­ter right UMP who received 20.8% of the vote and 20 seats. The
Social­ist Par­ty and its allies were utter­ly defeat­ed, obtain­ing onlz 13.98% and 13 seats. The
vot­er turnout slight­ly increased com­pared to 2009, with a still high absten­tion rate of more than
56 %. Inter­est­ing­ly, the land­slide vic­to­ry of Front Nation­al did not pro­voke a wide­spread pub­lic
enrage­ment, as had done the suc­cess of FN-leader Jean Marie Le Pen in the pres­i­den­tial
elec­tions of 2002, when he qual­i­fied for the sec­ond round with 16,8 % of the vote. The
rel­a­tive­ly low degree of pub­lic excite­ment may be caused by two inter­re­lat­ed ele­ments: On the
one hand, cit­i­zens may have become accli­ma­tized to FN being an inte­gral part of the polit­i­cal
land­scape of France. On the oth­er hand, the indif­fer­ence of pub­lic opin­ion might also indi­cate
that the EP elec­tions are still con­sid­ered of less­er sig­nif­i­cance than oth­er polls, mean­ing results
of EP elec­tions don’t real­ly mat­ter and can thus eas­i­ly be explained as an acci­dent.
The imme­di­ate con­se­quence of the 2014 elec­tions, how­ev­er, is that the biggest cohort of
French EP deputies orig­i­nates now from a xeno­pho­bic, pop­ulist and fierce­ly anti-EU par­ty with
appalling­ly sim­plis­tic views on cur­rent eco­nom­ic issues. Log­i­cal­ly, the weight of France with­in
the EU insti­tu­tions is neg­a­tive­ly affect­ed by these results.

2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

The East­ern neigh­bor­hood is tra­di­tion­al­ly not a pri­or­i­ty of French for­eign pol­i­cy, which
empha­sizes more the impor­tance of the South­ern hemi­sphere, the Maghreb region and
fran­coph­o­ne Africa for the nation­al inter­ests of the coun­try. With the shift in pow­er from Nico­las
Sarkozy to François Hol­lande, there has been no fun­da­men­tal change in these deeply root­ed
pref­er­ences, which are deter­mined by the desire to keep a sphere of influ­ence on the African
con­ti­nent. The recent French-led inter­ven­tions in Mali and Cen­tral Africa prove that France,
moti­vat­ed by eco­nom­ic and secu­ri­ty inter­ests as well as by nation­al pres­tige, is by far more
will­ing to engage in the South­ern hemi­sphere than in East­ern Europe.

On the oth­er hand, the Hol­lande admin­is­tra­tion has shown a vis­i­ble inter­est in improv­ing
rela­tions with recent Mem­ber States in Cen­tral and East­ern Europe, in order to increase its lever­age on the region as a whole, includ­ing those states in line for poten­tial mem­ber­ship. Thus,
the new gov­ern­ment has made suc­ces­ful efforts to strength­en its rela­tion­ship with Poland, the
Pres­i­dent vis­it­ing the coun­try three times since April 2012. Also, along with Poland, France has
pro­vid­edthe strongest con­tri­bu­tion in terms of troops to the NATO exer­cise “Stead­fast Jazz” in
the Baltic region in Novem­ber 2013. The recent rap­proche­ment between France and Cen­tral
Europe has also been facil­i­tat­ed by the pro­gres­sive dis­en­gage­ment of the US from the region,
so that the CEE coun­tries no longer appear, in French eyes, as mere­ly band­wag­o­ning Amer­i­can
hege­mo­ny.

The Hol­lande admin­is­tra­tion appears to be pur­su­ing the strat­e­gy of try­ing to impact the
Ukrain­ian con­flict through a close coop­er­a­tion with­in the so-called “Weimar tri­an­gle”, con­sist­ing
of France, Ger­many, and Poland. How­ev­er, the ques­tion of a poten­tial Ukrain­ian EU acces­sion
is assessed dif­fer­ent­ly in Paris, War­saw and Berlin. Where­as Poland push­es for the EU to open
its door to Ukrain­ian mem­ber­ship, France remains opposed to the acces­sion of the East­ern
neigh­bor­hood coun­try.

In gen­er­al, French cit­i­zens demon­strate a cer­tain enlarge­ment fatigue, the fear that EU
acces­sion may lead to more out­sourc­ing, “social dump­ing” and uncon­trolled migra­tion. This
con­cerns pri­mar­i­ly the acces­sion of Turkey, to which a large major­i­ty of French cit­i­zens remain
adamant­ly opposed. The Hol­lande admin­is­tra­tion has opt­ed for a more con­struc­tive atti­tude
toward EU-Turk­ish mem­ber­ship nego­ci­a­tions than its pre­de­ces­sor, but main­tains the
com­mit­ment to hold a ref­er­en­dum among the French vot­ers, once the talks have been
con­clud­ed. At the present moment, there is no doubt that the results of such a ref­er­en­dum
would be over­whelm­ing­ly neg­a­tive.

3. Power relations in the EU

The issue of pow­er, hege­mo­ny and influ­ence in the Euro­pean Union is a key issue of the
cur­rent polit­i­cal debate in France. Nico­las Sarkozy, dur­ing the lat­er part of his pres­i­den­cy, had
opt­ed for a close align­ment with Ger­many. After hav­ing failed in uni­lat­er­al French ini­tia­tives, he
has since acquired the con­vic­tion that his coun­try could only exer­cise an impact on EU poli­cies
if it makes com­mon cause with his East­ern neigh­bor. François Hol­lande, after hav­ing tak­en
office in April 2012, made sim­i­lar efforts to design new avenues for French Euro­pean pol­i­tics by
seek­ing alter­na­tive alliances out­side of the Fran­co-Ger­man cou­ple. How­ev­er, he did not
suc­ceed in giv­ing a dif­fer­ent turn to the gen­er­al pri­or­i­ties of the EU’s finan­cial and eco­nom­ic
poli­cies, which he want­ed to focus more on growth, employ­ment and invest­ment, rather than on
sta­bil­i­ty.

With­in Hol­lan­de’s own major­i­ty, the role of Ger­many with­in the Euro­pean Union is high­ly
con­test­ed. Some seniour Social­ist politi­cians (like Arnaud Mon­te­bourg and Claude Bar­tolone)
urge the Pres­i­dent to be tougher on Ger­many and accuse Angela Merkel of mak­ing the whole of Europe suf­fer under her exlu­sive­ly sta­bil­i­ty-dri­ven poli­cies. Oth­er voic­es point out that France
needs to set­tle its bud­getary sit­u­a­tion and imple­ment struc­tur­al reforms. They open­ly sug­gest
that the coun­try should take inspi­ra­tion from the over­haul of the labour mar­ket and social
secu­ri­ty sys­tem which Ger­many imple­ment­ed under Ger­hard Schröder. It is fair to say that the
diver­gences with­in the Social­ist Par­ty around the stability-vs.-growth debate (and thus around
Ger­many) were the rea­son for the recent break­down of the Valls gov­ern­ment. Its reshuf­fling
from August 2014 no longer leaves any doubt about the future pri­or­i­ties of the gov­ern­ment: It
now clear­ly opts for sta­bil­i­ty and sup­ply-side macro­eco­nom­ic poli­cies.

In gen­er­al, French pol­i­cy-mak­ers and ana­lysts seem to have acknowl­edged the fact that the
lever­age of their coun­try with­in the Euro­pean Union has declined in pro­por­tion to its bad
eco­nom­ic per­for­mance in the recent years. It is aston­ish­ing how­ev­er, that very few politi­cians
seri­ous­ly dis­cuss the ques­tion how France could restore its impact on the pri­or­i­ties of the
Euro­pean Union and could become again a for­ward-think­ing actor in the debate around the
future of Europe. In this con­text, the ques­tion of a pos­si­ble British exit from the Euro­pean Union
is not a major top­ic of polit­i­cal debate. It should be not­ed that the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Michel
Rocard, a high­ly esti­mat­ed senior politi­cian the Social­ist Par­ty, open­ly advo­cat­ed the exit of the
UK from the EU in an op-ed for the news­pa­per “Le Monde” in June 2014.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.