Wrote this in December 2015. Think it is even more relevant today.
Never mind Brexit. That’s minor stuff because the European Union can deal with a British withdrawal. The real moment of truth will be May 2017, the second round of the French presidential election. That’s our 1933 moment, when everything can change for Europe.
Now, let me be clear: Marine Le Pen is not a Nazi. She’s way, way too smart to be one. We can beat Nazis. Marine Le Pen is much scarier, because she provides hope. She is by far the best communicator in French politics because her policies and ideas all sound credible, simple, and joined up. Unlike Merkel or Hollande, Marine Le Pen sounds like she has a plan to deal with the refugee crisis, and radical Islam. Will it work? Almost certainly not, but it sounds like it might, and that beats hand-wringing every time.
Le Pen described Brexit as being similar to the fall of the Berlin Wall. She does herself a disservice, because Britain is not vital to the EU. But France is. With no France, the EU is over. She’s already said that she’ll take France out of the eurozone, and seems to have suggested that the sort of changes she wants to the EU will destroy it in all but name anyway. If she doesn’t get them, she’s taking France out. In short, May 6, 2017 is the day the future of Europe will be decided, in France.
Before UK eurosceptics celebrate, however, they should read the Le Pen fine print. British eurosceptics are constantly attributing, wrongly, their own economically right-wing beliefs to all eurosceptics. France under Marine Le Pen will revert to a hard-left economic experiment not seen since the early days of Mitterand in 1981. Protectionism and tariffs will be back, and with that the end of the European Single Market project driven (ironically) by the British in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Le Pen is the biggest of big government interventionists, and no friend of free trade, and if the walls go up in France, they’ll go up across the rest of Europe in retaliation. That coupled with the breakup of the eurozone caused by French withdrawal will herald the darkest of economic days in Europe since the 1930s, as countries jettison the common currency in a desperate attempt to devalue against each other.
Whenever I write pieces like this I’m always accused of hysteria, primarily because those doing it (not all eurosceptics) seem to believe that the key benefit of the EU, the single market and the right to trade freely, is some sort of cast-in-stone natural phenomenon. It isn’t. The end of the single market is the greatest threat to European prosperity and stability since the 1930s.
Take Ireland: we export 90% of what we produce here. Think those US multinationals are here to supply into the Irish market? A Le Pen triggered era of protectionism will cripple us more than most.
Marine Le Pen has a serious chance of being the next president of France not because she appeals to racists (which she does) but because she has broadened her appeal. There are people who have no time for the thuggish anti-semite hardliners of the FN who will cast a Le Pen ballot because they fear that France and Europe have lost control of her borders and Le Pen is the only politician who seems to a) admit it, and b) do something about it. That’s an awkward, uncomfortable but nevertheless correct fact for us liberals to confront. Yes, we must care for refugees. Yes, we must provide sanctuary. But unless we can also convince ordinary Europeans that this continent can control who comes to live amongst us, the 6th of May 2017 is the day everything changes.