Friday, 28 January 2022 08:36

Pécresse riding the fine line between Macron and Le Pen on Europe

Valérie Pécresse, the right-wing candidate for Les Républicains in the French elections, has presented her “patriotic and European” vision for Europe. It flirts between the one presented by ‘not-yet candidate’ Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen. EURACTIV France reports.

Immigration is, rather unsurprisingly, Pécresse’s favourite theme when it comes to the EU.

If elected, the right-wing candidate will push for the renegotiation of key European agreements, like the Schengen agreement, and push to speed up the recruitment of 10,000 additional border guards for Frontex, the EU border agency. Recently, she also slammed the EU’s “sieve-like” borders during a visit to a migrant camp in Greece.

Pécresse also called for EU enlargement procedures to be stopped, highlighting Turkey as a priority. According to her, this would allow “pre-accession aid [to be redeployed] to other European priorities” like her proposed implementation of a “European Marshall Plan” for Africa, which she said would help develop the continent’s economy and thus limit migratory movements.

If Pécresse were to be elected and thus hold the EU Council presidency for the two remaining months after Macron, she would renegotiate the EU’s so-called “returns” directive for it to allow the automatic deportation of illegal migrants to their country of origin.

The right-wing candidate also criticised the current system, which allows voluntary departure from the Schengen area.

Macron’s presidential challenger Pécresse would say ‘non’ to federal EU

The conservative candidate who has emerged as Emmanuel Macron’s most serious challenger for next year’s presidential election kicked off her campaign on Saturday (11 December) by announcing she would resist German calls for a federal European superstate.

Environment, industry and digital technology

While the candidate called for nuclear power to be recognised as a “sustainable economic activity that can benefit from green financing,” she called the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) “an ecological barrier at our borders”.

Pécresse has repeatedly voiced her support for industry, affirming her commitment to coordinate policies relating to research and drug industries following the pandemic.

On revitalising European industry, she voiced her support for the promotion of the construction of “major European industrial champions” in sectors such as digital technology, green energy and vehicles of the future.

To achieve this, Pécresse proposed reversing anti-competition rules that would hinder this process and weaken the continent’s major companies. For example, she suggested establishing a principle of reciprocity on European public contracts, which would mean closing these same contracts to companies from countries that do not accept European companies. A “European preference” will be added to the public procurement code, she also said.

Europe is also at the core of Pécresse’s view on digital matters.

She has stated her intentions to pursue the objective of a “sovereign cloud”, to protect the use of French and European data, as well as to impose a 50% quota of European products in software and digital infrastructure.

On EU standards, Pécresse said she dreams of a Europe “that harmonises social rules to avoid the effects of dumping […] which destructure people and weaken the European project”.

Le Pen wants EU to be ‘association of free nations’

After the defeat in the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen’s right-wing Rassemblement National renewed its discourse about Europe, aiming to appeal to a wider electorate, but it is uncertain if this shift will give Le Pen a shot at winning the keys to the Elysée Palace in April

A median position

The conservative candidate also said she intends to “strengthen Europe, not run away from it”, and denounced the risk of a “national retreat” in the speeches of Eurosceptics.

On this point, she is walking a fine line, however, given that she has been saying for several months that she wants to re-establish some of the primacy of national law over European law: Pécresse has formerly said that if EU law would prove incompatible with her political projects, she would not hesitate to invoke France’s ‘constitutional identity’ before EU courts.

Wary of the differences in member states’ contributions to the common EU budget, the candidate has said that she will also initiate a “renegotiation of financial rebates” as these would no longer be necessary after Brexit.

Rather unusually, Pécresse promised to keep public debt below 3% of GDP, while most presidential candidates favour a management of public funds that follows the Maastricht criteria less strictly. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire recently called the criteria “obsolete”.

Pécresse’s programme appears to be having a hard time distinguishing itself from that of Macron’s, notably on reindustrialisation, the carbon tax and Schengen reform.

As a result, the candidate appears to hold a discourse less typical of the moderate right, and more in line with radical right, particularly on immigration and the primacy of European law.

On budgetary rules and the need to strengthen Europe through the economy, however, the candidate is more in tune with her base and the electorate of the conservative and European right.

On European issues, Pécresse thus has much less room for manoeuvre than the “nationalists” or “federalists” in the race she claims to distinguish herself from. Her quest for a median position or balance risks making it even more difficult for her to identify with voters.

Sovereignty at the heart of Macron’s Europe vision

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is building suspense over whether he will run for a second term, has a vision of “refounding” a more sovereign Europe. EURACTIV France reports.