Marine Le Pen: “Who stole all that money?”

Screen capture of the April 10th debate Des Paroles et Des Actes

Screen capture of the April 10th debate Des Paroles et Des Actes

This is usually material for our Marine’s Gems/Perles de Marine section, but it was too good not to write a blog post. 

On April 10th, far-right leader Marine Le Pen participated in Des Paroles et des Actes, one of the most prominent TV debate shows in France. The least that can be said is that Le Pen made an impression on the public.

Why is it important for us? She talked a lot about Europe, and helped the show set an audience record in the process!

Several French media (Nouvel Obs, Le Point, etc.) have since proclaimed Le Pen’s domination over the evening, and harshly attacked the producers of the show for their lack of journalistic skills throughout the event.

Since this is a blog on Europe Affairs, we’ll focus on the middle of the debate. First we’ll note that the question was: Europe, a chance or a trap for France?

The first controversy of the European debate happened even before Le Pen walked onto the stage. Her opponent of the night was supposed to be Martin Schulz, the current president of the European Parliament.Le Pen stated she would not attend the debate if she was opposed to a foreigner.  The German was thus replaced at the last minute by Alain Lamassoure, leader of the UMP list for the European elections in France.

Back to the debate itself.

Lamassoure presented Europe as a source of peace and reconciliation: according to him, 2 out 3 Frenchmen perceive Germans as the  population they felt closest to. This is an unparalleled development given that these two countries/tribes/cultures had fought throughout the major part of the last 2000 years, he says. According to the UMP politician, Europe is the only way for France to preserve its international clout in the  face of globalization and developing third-world countries.

Marine Le Pen during the 2012 French presidential elections.  CC/Flickr/abodftyh

Marine Le Pen during the 2012 French presidential elections.

Le Pen responded by attacking the character of Lamassoure, stating how (sarcastically) happy she was to face him in particular:

“You are the human incarnation of the European Union. You are the one who thinks Europe is protecting us from globalization.” (1:04:25)

She even brought a little array of slides depicting political leaflets to argue traditional parties had been trying to chance Europe for the past 20 years.

The debate degenerated in a variety of attacks from both sides on topics such as the attendance and voting record of Marine Le Pen at the EP(even Lamassoure knows about sites such as VoteWatch Europe) or negotiations with Turkey and Ukraine.

But did Lamassoure really advance the debate? I would personally venture he did not. Le Pen was able to stir away from any piercing question on her European policies. There was no question linked to the actual benefits or disadvantages brought about by the Union. And for me, that’s a win for the far-right politician. All that is left from that bout with Lamassoure is maybe Le Pen’s slide show moment and screaming about Turkey.

This points to the craftiness of the FN leader when it comes to political communication.

Here’s another great one for the debate: the euro has always been a sore spot for Le Pen. She thinks it is the Union’s most terrible flaw, but has had trouble putting together her arguments. You may or may not agree with her. But who needs arguments? She swept away the economic growth argument (+22% GDP growth in France since 1999) with one roaring sentence:

“But who stole all that money?” (1:25:27)

This is what probably stuck with spectators after one and half hour of debate on a Thursday evening.

One last gem for the road ( from the last part of the debate against Yann Galut):

“You’re the one who thinks our country is small. You don’t believe in France anymore. I believe in France. (…) [You believe] we can’t get on without the European Union. Singapore is half the size of Ile-de-France, but they manage. They have their protectionism and their own currency.” (2:00:29)

Make up your own mind about this debate if you understand French: it is available here (I recommend it).

Fast (and sometimes fun) facts about Marine Le Pen:

*45 years old
*President of the National Front for the last three years
*Member of the European Parliament for the last ten years (click here to find her voting record and attendance for her last mandate)
* A French lower court just ruled that it was legal to call her a Fascist, as the leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon had done.

A couple of French perceptions of Europe on Twitter published during the debate

Translation: We are too many in the EU. The mistake was to enlarge the Union to 28 member states.

Translation: We cannot get out of the EU today. It would lead to huge trade losses and take away possibilities. Plus we get help from the EU.


Swiss migration referendum: fast facts



What is the situation?
On Sunday, the Swiss population passed by a narrow margin (50,3%) an initiative promising to set limits to mass immigration in Switzerland. One party behind this referendum: the Swiss People’s Party (SVP or UDP depending on the national language), a conservative right-wing party who led the initiative to ban minarets in Switzerland.  In the last years, the country had welcomed annually over 70,000 EU workers. Foreigners currently represent around 23% of the Swiss population, to which you can add approximately 150,000 frontier workers coming from Germany, France & Italy.

Who is concerned?
Anyone who wants to reside in Switzerland (foreign workers, asylum seekers, family members of people residing in the country, etc.), since entries will now be limited by set quotas. The right of foreign residents to receive social benefits or an authorization for long-term residence may also be limited.

What will it change for France? 
First, there are the direct consequences of the vote, which will affect the lives of several French workers either living in Switzerland or crossing the border every day to work (approximately 65,000 people in this last group). Most importantly, this is an additional incentive for France to “protect” its borders for foreign migrants: if prosperous Switzerland is doing it, why shouldn’t one of its closest neighbor do it too? We’re talking about a country with which France has several economic ties, on top of a common historical background. It will be interesting to follow how French politicians handle this Swiss development. National Front leader Marine Le Pen has already reacted, congratulating the Swiss on their lucidity in a press release.

This Swiss victory will reinforce the French people  in their will to stop mass immigration and to take back the control of their borders in their face-off with the European Union. Marine Le Pen

At the other extreme, French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius declared that Switzerland will suffer “from being inward-looking.”

When will the Swiss decision be implemented?
All international treaties (a.k.a the agreements Switzerland has made with the EU) will have to be renegotiated within the next three years.

According to Martin Grandjean, from the University of Lausanne, the “cantons” most favorable to the immigration regulation initiative were those where there were the least foreigners.

For those reading French, here is the full text of the referendum initiative.

France & the European Union : a history of schizophrenia


CC/Flickr/European Parliament

“Of course one can jump up and down yelling Europe ! Europe ! Europe ! But it amounts to nothing and it means nothing.” Charles de Gaulle, 1965

President de Gaulle has come and gone, but his ideas seems to remain in line with the current French society. What is most striking about today’s France is the dual personality it has developed over the years when talking about the European Union in all its forms. No matter the political color of their leaders, the French have wanted more control over Germany while maintaining a maximum level of sovereignty. This trend was crystallized in the proposal in 2011 of a “two-speed Europe” by Nicolas Sarkozy, which would allow France to more closely integrate with the appropriate countries while keeping out other states such as Greece.

Since the beginning of the 2008 crisis, the Eurosceptic giant has begun to emerge (52% of the French desire “less Europe”). Add this number to the anti-EU pledges of Marine le Pen (Front National), and the declared support of Rachida Dati (UMP) for British PM David Cameron and his stance against Europe, and it is understandably difficult for Hollande to know on which leg to stand. To speak plainly, the numbers are simply not in his favor: the French public debt has reached unrecorded heights in 2013, and the dreaded unemployment rate he had vowed to turn around keeps rising steadily. As a result, the people of France are looking for alternatives to a government that has failed to provide them with the economic security they feel entitled to.

I believe that in order to understand the relationship between France and the EU, there are several factors to be taken into account: the relative ignorance of the French when it comes to the actual workings of the Union; the tendency of national parties to use it as a convenient scapegoat; the deeply-rooted tendency of humans to mistrust foreigners; the controversial resistance of the French society to the changes brought by globalization; the misplaced priorities when nominating French Euro-deputies; etc.

In the run-up to the European elections, this blog will attempt to analyze each of these facets.