Twelve years ago, a majority of French voters rejected the European Constitutional Treaty, halting European integration in its tracks. A broad coalition from across the political and socioeconomic spectrum sent a clear signal to Brussels that the European project would go no further. This signal was ignored, and France’s political class is now suffering the consequences.
The first round of France’s two-round presidential election produced no clear winner, attesting to the country’s political transformation. Neither of the two traditional governing parties gathered enough votes to continue to the next round, in which liberal centrist Emmanuel Macron is facing patriotic protectionist Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen is a known eurosceptic, but most of the eleven candidates running in the first round also incorporated eurosceptic policies into their programmes. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s promises to renegotiate European Union (EU) treaties garnered strong support. With a fifth of the vote, he represents the second strongest eurosceptic voice in France. With just under five percent of votes came Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, whose Gaullist brand of patriotism earned him the third largest contingent of eurosceptic voters. When combined with smaller candidates expressing opposition to the EU or its policies, France’s eurosceptic voting block gathered just under fifty percent of the vote. Euroscepticism is alive and well in France.
Regardless of who wins on May 7, they will have to deal with a fractured parliament resulting from June’s legislative elections to pass laws. If the first round of the presidential election is any indication, there will be a strong uptick of eurosceptic voices in France’s Assemblée nationale. These voices will certainly come from a diverse set of ideological currents, but will likely agree on key policies such as a strong stance vis-à-vis Brussels on everything from budgetary oversight to regulatory encroachment or international trade.
The coalition that agreed to halt further integration in 2005 has not disappeared. If anything, it has gained strength, having been vindicated by the EU’s catastrophic responses to economic and migratory crises since 2008. The era of circumventing citizens in order to accelerate the European project has come to an end. If the French election is any indication, the citizens of Europe are waking up to fear tactics employed by traditional political elites –euroscepticism is indeed alive and well across the continent.