Business World

Thursday 14 December 2017

French electorate at home and abroad to decide fate of the EU

Marine Le Pen wants France to leave the euro (Michel Euler/AP)
Marine Le Pen wants France to leave the euro (Michel Euler/AP)

Sean Duffy

The French election in April is the most important among a number of votes taking place across the EU in 2017.

The candidacy of the National Front's Marine Le Pen raises the spectre of a further disruption of the European Union project, following hot on the heels of Brexit.

An outright victory for the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration National Front is seen as unlikely, but not implausible, by political analysts.

If she is elected it has the potential to derail an EU project that Irish authorities have, in the main, backed unreservedly.

Many commentators believe that were France to pull away from Europe, it would herald the end of the union as it stands.

Ms Le Pen holds an outright lead in opinion polls.

However the same data shows that while she may win the first round, the nature of the French electoral system means it's likely she will lose in the second-round runoff to independent candidate Emmanuel Macron.

One thing is for certain - every vote will be fought for between now and polling day on April 23.

That means the votes of many French living overseas could well have an important bearing on the outcome. Unlike Irish citizens living abroad, French expatriates can vote in their general elections.

The relatively small number of French voters here are concentrated in Dublin and Cork.

To vote next month expats must register with "a district consulate" in order to cast their ballots.

There are over two million French people living outside the country, almost half (49.5pc) in other European countries.

Ireland's trade ties with France have grown in recent years.

The French foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, told a Dublin audience last week that Irish companies have outpaced the Chinese when it came to investing in France.

The Irish firms with the biggest investments in France include CRH, Smurfit Kappa, ABP Food Group, DCC and Glen Dimplex.

"Each one of those companies has several thousand staff and sometimes dozens of sites on French territory," Mr Ayrault said.

Irish companies employ around 20,000 people in France.

There are 10,000 French people in Ireland registered with the consulate. The French Irish Chamber of Commerce reported that it had added 20 new companies to its membership last year.

BNP Paribas is the world's seventh-largest bank, with $2.4 trillion under management. The bank employees around 580 people in Ireland.

Infrastructure giant Veolia also has a strong presence, with a staff of around 600 people, and it has made significant investments in water-treatment plants around the country.

Ireland's biggest link to France though is through shared use of the euro, which Ms Le Pen says she will look to withdraw from, even if she hasn't been clear on the mechanics of any exit.

Even if the euro proves harder to leave than she'd like, a win for LePen and the National Front would also effectively end the joint Franco-German leadership of the European Union.

That would provoke a political crisis as significant as the economic crisis the euro area is only just emerging from.

With Brexit looming, Irish politicians will be hoping for an outcome that provides the least amount of disruption in the years ahead.

Irish Independent

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