PARIS – “Europe, the decline” was the weekly Le Point’s cover story before the European Parliament elections.
The focus was not especially on Marine Le Pen and her National Front. It was not only on the rise of the far right across Europe (what The Economist described as the “European tea parties”), but on all the economic and social problems on the Continent and the deep changes that have been occurring, since the oil shock of 1973/74, but mainly since the world financial crisis began in 2008.
“Greece of today is the France of tomorrow,” according to Le Pen.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy is trying desperately to combat this view in France, writing an article in the same issue of Le Point about the strength of Europe, based on the Franco-German partnership and the euro zone.
In his article, he suggested changes in the Schengen Area (of 26 European countries that have abolished border controls on their common borders) that he considered necessary to protect Europe from the massive immigration, which can be seen as the main reason for the rise in nationalism. “Europe is protecting us against the ideological drift of our leaders and their majorities [by voting for Euroskeptics],” Sarkozy wrote.
Many voters wanted less Europe; Le Figaro called this a “désamour” (“a reversal of love”) after five years of crisis.
Do we have to rethink all the European Union institutions, architecture and functions, the newspaper asked, referring to the debates likely to take place in the coming weeks.
On Tuesday, the first such discussions were the main dish at a dinner attended by the chiefs of state and of government of the 28 member-states. The talks were an attempt to find a way “to restore the trust in the European project.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose electorate is more euroskeptic than that of most other partners, said he wants to clip the wings of the EU and bring back large areas of sovereignty from Brussels to London, a desire he shares with Le Pen.
He may have the opportunity “to discuss the direction that the union must take” at another meeting in Stockholm on June 9. One hopes that by then, the identity of the next president of the European Commission, either Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg or the incumbent Martin Schultz of Germany, will be known.
In a speech to the nation after the French vote, President François Hollande said that the EU has become “unreadable, distant and not understandable,” but that he wants to reform it, not destroy it.
However, do the voters want more than that? And, more importantly, does Hollande understand his compatriots, let alone other Europeans?
In its editorial on Monday, Le Figaro wrote that the election was a personal victory for Le Pen, who brought a new style and normalization to the National Front.
“To ignore the National Front electorate would be an error, since it is a composite, more representative of French society as a whole than the electorate of the UMP [the center-right Union for a Popular Movement] or of the PS [the center- left Socialist Party].
“It is not only a party of protest...against Europe and against Hollande. The party is even stronger when the debate is about itself and its ideas,” wrote Jerome Fourquet, from the French Institute of Public Opinion.
The National Front is in negotiations with possible future partners in the European Parliament, hoping that the dynamics of European elections will foster rapprochement.
According to Le Pen’s adviser for European affairs Ludovic de Danne, this “will materialize the already very positive contacts” made over the past two years.
The National Front wants to be a force in Brussels and assemble an alliance of 50 EU deputies with its potential allies in the Freedom Party of Austria, Vlaams Belang (Belgium) and the Party for Freedom (Netherlands).
In Greece, the extreme-left Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras, which came in first in the country’s EU vote, is also euroskeptic, and in Hungary, the racist Jobbik party came in second after the right-wing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The UK Independence Party of Nigel Farage, which won the British vote, already said “no” to cooperation with the National Front, and in Germany, where Angela Merkel’s Eurobelieving Christian Democratic Union won, it is still correct to say that the Euroskeptics have given Europe a massive shake-up.
Françoise Scatigna contributed to this piece.