Guest post by Dr Emmanuelle Schon-Quinlivan, Lecturer in Comparative European Government, French Politics, and Policy-making in the European Union at the Department of Government, University College Cork.
Ireland is currently, and will be for many years to come, absorbed by Brexit and its consequences for the Republic and the entire island. However, the 2017 presidential election in France could have some significant impact on the future of European integration and Ireland’s place within it. On the 23 April and 7 May French voters will put an end to one of the most unpredictable, unsettled and ‘crazy’ campaigns under the Fifth Republic. The Fifth Republic is well know for being a bipolar left/right system due largely to its majoritarian electoral system. However, the rise of the Front National in the last 30 years has slowly eroded this bipolarity and it has become a tripartite system, with the Front National becoming the main electoral force in France at the European Parliamentary elections. What had not been anticipated is that the open primaries on the left and the right generated a radicalisation of the candidates chosen, opening a boulevard in the centre of the political spectrum to the new comer in politics, Macron. Even though he was a political adviser to Hollande and then became his Finance Minister for two years, Macron remains a presidential candidate who has never been elected to any post, is under 40 years old and represents minority ideas among the French electorate – pro-European, socially libertarian, economically liberal. Yet, the polls indicate that the second round of the election will be between Macron and Le Pen, two people who are perceived outside of the system, at a time when the French electorate is disgusted by its political elite and 35% of them are considering abstaining from voting.
In what ways could this election have an impact on Ireland?
The impact will come through the European Union. Let’s have a look at both scenarios. In the first instance, Le Pen wins the election. This is not the forecasted scenario at the moment but there are still some 36% of voters who are undecided and from those who have a clear first round preference, 20% have not made their decision on how they might vote in a second round Macron/Le Pen dual.
If Le Pen wins, she intends to organise a referendum asking the French people whether they want France to leave the EU. Indeed, this is the basis for her entire economic programme with its focus on recovering monetary, legislative, territorial and economic sovereignty. This would strengthen Theresa May’s hand greatly and would be the start of the disunion of the EU 27. It would signal the end of the EU as we know it with one partner of the Franco-German duo and founding member state of the EU leaving the European adventure behind. Following Brexit, Ireland is in a vulnerable position but can count on the support of the EU 27 who even referred to Ireland’s particular case in their reply to May’s letter triggering article 50. With a Le Pen win, the current, slightly miraculous cohesion of the EU 27 will come undone and will leave Ireland extremely isolated as a consequence.
If Macron wins, his vision for Europe rests on a revival of the Franco-German engine of integration and fits with the ‘those who want more, do more’ scenario developed in Juncker’s White Paper on the Future of Europe. This clearly creates a variable geometry EU and looking at Macron’s manifesto, Ireland would not be part of the inner circle if it did not change its approach to taxation. Creating a vanguard of countries to go further in tax harmonization would circumvent the unanimity requirement which presently protects Ireland from such an initiative. Macron specifically mentions ‘France’s commitment to fight against fiscal arrangements between States and multinationals. They bias competition within Europe, just like the one between Apple and Ireland which has been struck down.’ It is accepted that manifestos and electoral promises are meant to be broken. However, this reference comes at a time when the Commission has put out a proposal on the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base, strongly supported by France and Germany. In order to make the EU more egalitarian and social, tax harmonization and the fight against fiscal dumping have become hot topics which does not go in the sense of Ireland’s interests.
Whether Macron or Le Pen gets elected, it will have consequences for Ireland. It could always be that the conservative candidate Fillon wins but he is currently in third position after numerous scandals. And of course, come June 2017, after the legislative election, France could face a five year period of ‘cohabitation’ which should guarantee a comfortable status quo to Ireland.