Opinion: A Le Pen victory in France could signal end of the EU

Downing on politics

Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen
John Downing

John Downing

MOore than one in three French farmers say they will vote for the Front National's Marine Le Pen (pictured) in the presidential elections due for April 23. It's a change from the days when the centre-right Gaullist party, these days called Les Républicans, just mopped up the rural vote.

The French news magazine L'Express puts Ms Le Pen's support from farmers at 35pc. It puts her support among manual workers at 44pc, and salaried employees at 35pc, and it suggests that overall, she is the most popular candidate.

Received wisdom in France right now is that she still is unlikely to win. It is widely supposed that the old principle of a "Republican coalition" will kick in and she will lose to an "Anybody But Le Pen (ABLP)" coalition frontrunner. Two recent opinion polls tipped the centrist former Finance Minister, Emmanuel Macron, to eventually win out by a margin of 60:40.

But we cannot bank on that. After the Tories overall election win in Britain in May 2015; the Brexit vote on June 23 last year; Donald Trump's win in the USA; and the rise of radical far-right candidates across Europe; we know there is a strange mood of disenchantment with traditional politics.

Under the French system, if nobody gets an overall majority the first day, there is a run-off between the top two a fortnight later. This year the second date is May 7.

Back in 2002, Marine Le Pen's father and FN founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it into the second run-off against Gaullist Jacques Chirac. Socialist and communist voters turned out the second day with great theatricality, and wearing rubber gloves and/or clothes pegs on their nose, voted for Chirac. How much we can rely on a repeat of this 15 years later remains to be seen.

The agenda of Marine Le Pen, now very often referred to as simply "Marine" in efforts to soften her image, is well publicised. Halting immigration, leaving the euro, and radically renegotiating the European Union terms, and reverting to old-school protectionism.

The implic­ations for Ireland and Irish farming are huge. A Marine Le Pen win in May would challenge the very existence of the Euro­pean Union. In the first round of the 2012 presidential election she got almost 18pc of the vote and was placed third.

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Now she is on an overall 26pc according to L'Express and is also described as "solidly backed," with 80pc of those declaring for her saying they are "certain" in their choice.

The main factor that could advance Le Pen and the Front Nationale are the gaffes and stum­bles by her political oppon­ents. So, the huge contro­versy surr­ounding François Fillon, who beat former President Nicolas Sarkozy for the Républicans nomination, helps her.

Fillon is embroiled in "Penelopegate." He is accused of paying his Welsh-born wife, Penelope, for parliamentary work she never did.

But then again, Le Pen was embroiled in a comparable row paying her partner in questionable circumstances at the European Parliament.

The other heavy hitter, Emmanuel Macron, has read the public mood well by insisting that he is "neither left nor right" in an era where such labels have less and less relevance.

As the campaign hots up, the outcome for Ireland will be huge.

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