20.06.2024 | Франція ось-ось поставить ЄС на межу розвалу
Аллістер Хіз - The Telegraph

It is a terrifying showdown, an epic moment of truth that threatens to blow up the EU, trigger another Eurozone crisis and, just three days into his prime ministership, throw Sir Keir Starmer’s immigration and trade plans into disarray. In two weeks’ time, France will have either elected the most radical Right-wing populist government ever to control a nuclear power, opted for a rabidly anti-capitalist, anti-Western, far-Left coalition, or proved itself to be entirely ungovernable.

The centre won’t hold. In extremis, President Emmanuel Macron may even have to resign. Chaos could overshadow the Olympics. I fear for the France I love, but above all I am angry at decades of failure by an arrogant, pseudo-meritocratic, overly Cartesian ruling class whose hatred of classical liberalism and disdain for conservative values are forcing the country into such an unpalatable choice.

The election’s impact will be explosive. Macron has bequeathed a 5.5 per cent of GDP budget deficit and a 110 per cent of GDP national debt. These have already led to the country’s credit rating being downgraded and to the EU launching an investigation for breach of the stability and growth pact. French bond yields are surging in anticipation of drastic fiscal loosening whoever wins the election, potentially leading to a full-on financial crisis.

The Front Populaire – a miserable alliance of the extreme Left, socialists, communists, greens and assorted misfits – wants an immediate €50 billion a year tax increase and at least €106 billion extra a year in spending. It wants to raise income tax, reintroduce a punitive wealth tax, cap inheritances, jack up the minimum wage to €1,600 after tax a month and the pay of public sector workers by 10 per cent, cancel Macron’s few positive reforms, and cut the retirement age to 62.

It will introduce gender self-ID, liberalise immigration, slap an embargo on arms sales to Israel and back the scandalous international court cases against the Jewish state. The manifesto is not just dementedly woke and Israelophobic but would bankrupt France, yet the Front Populaire is at 25 per cent in the polls.

Assuming we don’t end up with a hung parliament, a Rassemblement National (RN) government led by Jordan Bardella, Marine Le Pen’s deputy, remains more likely. It is impossible to exaggerate the scale of the psychological shock that a Le Pen/Bardella victory would cause. The global great and good would be horrified. Swathes of French society, including many in the banlieues and unions, would be enraged.

There could be widespread disorder, violence, looting and strikes, leading to the most dangerous showdown since 1968. Some functionaries would refuse to co-operate. Financial markets would panic. The IMF, World Bank and White House will hate Bardella’s net zero-defying tax cuts. He would slash VAT to 5.5 per cent from 20 per cent on carbon-intensive gas, energy and fuel, worth €17-€24 billion a year, and cut contributions to the EU by €2 billion, both popular moves. But the deficit would rise, and – unlike with Liz Truss’s supply-side agenda – there would be no long-term positive, pro-enterprise growth story as the RN is semi-socialist.

The European Central Bank may refuse to buy French bonds to stabilise the markets. The aim would be to humiliate Bardella and terminate Le Pen’s presidential aspirations, but the EU may find it harder to defeat France than it was to control the likes of Italy and Greece. France is at the heart of the EU system, and will be backed by Italy’s Giorgia Meloni. Bardella and his counter-elites may fight back successfully, threatening to withhold EU funding or cause havoc in other ways if they don’t get their way.

Bardella wants to expel foreign criminals, abolish benefits paid to parents of delinquents, and end the practice whereby those born of foreign parents in France are entitled to French citizenship. But the reality is that the RN’s broader agenda is incompatible with EU membership. It eventually seeks an immigration referendum that would slash numbers and reject most of the post-war rules on this subject. Le Pen and Bardella no longer say they want to leave the EU: the middle class fears a devaluation of their savings if the franc were reintroduced. But if he doesn’t implode in his first few weeks, he will begin a gradual process of Frexit by stealth.

British Brexiteers must remember that the RN used to be called the Front National. Its first treasurer was Pierre Bousquet, a former Rottenführer in the Waffen-SS Charlemagne Division. Jean-Marie Le Pen, who ran the party from 1972 to 2011, dismissed the Nazi gas chambers as a “detail”. The party was racist, anti-Semitic and Vichyite, and a magnet for skinheads and thugs. It was anti-Gaullist and anti-free market and obsessed with downplaying le maréchal Philippe Pétain’s despicable collaboration with the Nazis, France’s darkest hour.

But the party has changed dramatically since then, as even Macron has admitted; we can but hope that the transformation is real. Le Pen Sr was purged by his daughter Marine. She has rejected Pétainisme, and is now pro-Israel and speaks out against anti-Semitism. She has belatedly turned against Putin. Eric Zemmour’s new party now outflanks the RN from its Right. Bardella is the grandson of Italian and Algerian immigrants.

Men and women are now equally likely to vote RN, and 26 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds backed them in the European elections. Serge Klarsfeld, a Holocaust survivor and France’s pre-eminent Nazi hunter – who tracked down Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo butcher of Lyon, in Peru – now says that he will back the RN in the second round because it has changed. He is more afraid of the far Left. We will soon find out whether he is right, or whether he has been duped.

In the short term, chaos in France will be good for Starmer’s centrist credentials, though high-tax, post-non-dom London won’t gain from any exodus of French millionaires. In the longer term, a RN victory would be a nightmare for Starmer, exposing Labour’s naive love of all things European as nonsensical and toxifying any rapprochement.

There will be no deal on Channel crossings, numbers will rocket as migrants flee a crackdown in France and the UK begins to look like a soft touch. Starmer’s pro-European Convention views would look outdated as the continent shifts Right-wards, emboldening the Tory or Reform opposition. The tectonic plates are shifting, and not just in France.


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