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  • Jeremy Bourgais

French fears

Jeremy Bourgains, Poitiers Law School

FEAR seems to be one of the key words of the French elections: FEAR of terror, that casts its shadow over the 67,000 polling stations set up to welcome 47 million potential electors[1]; FEAR of extremism as Marine Le Pen, according to recent polling, could take up to 40 per cent of the vote; and last, but not least, FEAR for Europe. The European Union is threatened by a possible win for the Eurosceptic candidate. Already rejected by Britain, it also seems to be rejected by the many French voters who have decided to support a candidate who rejects the EU (seven candidates out of eleven in the first round of elections[2]). Almost half of the voters (48.41%[3]) have backed a candidate who either is clearly in favour of Frexit, or pleads for a systemic change in the European institutions.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, decided to send a message to these voters, in French, on the occasion of his 2017 State of the Union speech, which coincided with the final day of campaigning in France. He offered an interesting explanation about his choice of language:

I am hesitating between English and French, but I made my choice: I will express myself in French, because slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe. And also because the French will have elections next Sunday, and I would like them to understand what I am saying about Europe and about nations.

To underline the unprecedented crisis the EU is going through, Juncker used a neologism: “un moment de polycrise” (multicrisis). Before mentioning Brexit, he tried to reassure the Europeans, and the French in particular, by asserting that unemployment was decreasing and that the European GDP growth was twice as high as the American one. Did he mean that the French fear of unemployment and précarité was an overreaction? Surely not! In France, the unemployment rate is not decreasing[4], contrarily to what president Hollande promised five years ago during the last presidential campaign, and GDP growth remains below the Euro-zone average[5].

A more concrete answer to Europeans’ frustration with the EU was the European Commission’s choice to set out five possible scenarios rather than impose one, when elaborating on the White Paper on the future of Europe, issued in March. In his State of the Union speech, Juncker explained there would be a break with Brussels’ habit to “dictate”, to say “Voilà, à prendre ou à laisser![6]” Juncker’s French words seemed to echo Le Pen’s. The latter denounces “le diktat de Bruxelles” on a regular basis.

Juncker went on to claim that Europe was more than money, more than the market[7]; words that also sounded as a reply to Le Pen’s harsh criticism of pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron’s economic liberalism.

Today’s elections in France will be decisive on at least one of the Commission’s White Paper’s scenarios: scenario 1 – “Carrying On[8]”!

Jeremy Bourgais is a doctoral candidate, with responsibility for teaching, at the Law School at the University of Poitiers in France.

[1] Source: ministère de l’intérieur (French Home Office).

[2] The Eurosceptic candidates are Marine Le Pen (21.30%), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (19.58%) and five outsiders including Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (4.70%) who has rallied Marine Le Pen between the two rounds and who would be her prime minister (the four others being Philippe Poutou (1.09%), François Asselineau (0.92%), Nathalie Arthaud (0.64%) and Jacques Cheminade (0.18%).

[3] Not including blank vote.

[4] The unemployment remains stuck around 10% since November 2016, whereas below 5% in the UK and below 4% in Germany (source: eurostat and ons).

[5] 0.3% in France vs 0.5% in the Euro zone in the 1st quarter of 2017 (source: insee and eurostat).

[6] There it is, take it or leave it!

[7] « L’Europe est plus que l'argent, plus que le marché. L'Europe n'est pas seulement un marché. »

[8] The other ones are: “Scenario 2: Nothing but the Single Market”, “Scenario 3: Those Who Want More Do More”, “Scenario 4: Doing Less More Efficiently” and “Scenario 5: Doing Much More Together”. Source:

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