The French government is keeping tight-lipped on the subject of Britain’s renegotiation of the European Union treaties, for fear that discussion of the subject in public will encourage French voters to back the National Front.
Their unwillingness to engage on the subject could make concessions to the British government less likely, which in turn will do little for those who want to see the UK remain within the bloc.
The British Prime Minister David Cameron is currently seeking concessions from his fellow EU leaders, which will eventually be put to the British public as the basis for a referendum on whether to stay within the bloc or quit it. Success for the Prime Minister, who is expected to back the ‘Remain’ campaign, will depend on gaining adequate concessions from his fellow member states.
However, when Mr Cameron laid out his proposals last month the French administration said very little on the subject in public, fearing that discussion of the drawbacks of membership of the European Union could further persuade French citizens to back the National Front, Politico.eu has reported.
On Sunday, the National Front gained a significant victory in the first round of local elections. Across the country they took 30.8 percent of the vote, coming first place in six regions out of 13 in midland France.
Writing on Twitter, the party’s leader Marine Le Pen declared: “The national movement is now unquestionably the first party of France.”
If the result holds up in next week’s round of voting, it could be her springboard to success in the Presidential elections in 2017.
Meanwhile, Cameron is due in Brussels on the 17th and 18th December where he will flesh out his demands for change. So far the proposals have received a stony reception – plans to restrict in work benefits for migrants for five years were deemed to be contrary to the founding values of the European Union by Eastern European counties, who demanded the same restrictions be placed on British workers within the UK.
His hope is that France and Germany will back him and, in doing so, persuade the other EU countries to also give their blessing to the proposed changes.
The French establishment is less concerned with worker’s rights, but does have major concerns over British demands to be left out of plans for an “Ever Closer Union” between the member states, something which the National Front also plans to capitalise on. The mantra is included in the Lisbon Treaty, and perhaps more importantly is widely regarded as something of a mission statement by Europhiles.
“If that becomes a part of the political debate in France you will have the far-right saying, ‘Cameron is right, we can’t have an ever closer union. Look at how toxic it is,’” a high-ranking French official involved in the talks has said.
“The National Front will say: ‘If I’m president I will do like David Cameron and organize a referendum. I will ask the French if they want to keep the euro and other things.’ So it’s very sensitive,” they added.
In fact, this is already something that the National Front leader Marine Le Pen has seized on thanks to its resonance with the French public. Last month Le Pen told Bloomberg: “I am so happy to see David Cameron doing in the U.K. what I want to do for France. He’s using the months ahead of the referendum to get what he wants for his country, and we want that too, more sovereignty for France and more freedom.”
Her aides have made it clear that Cameron’s renegotiation has served as inspiration for the party.
“Cameron was a forerunner,” said Philippe Murer, who advises Le Pen on economic affairs. “Even if we don’t agree on every issue, notably the idea of making Europe more economically liberal, he is right to be holding a referendum.”
The rhetoric is making the National Front’s opponents very jumpy. French MEP Constance Le Grip, of the center-right European People’s Party has voiced concerns that Britain’s renegotiation strategy could spell further success for the National Front, saying: “There are very deep concerns about the National Front and the way this party is trying to use and manipulate the British debate in order to have a new tool for its propaganda.”
The Socialists, meanwhile, fear not only the rise of the National Front, but what a Brexit might mean for France.
“If the British do not go on with the European project that could be a good argument for them [National Front] to have their voice heard,” said Christophe Premat, a French Socialist MP.
“There is a certainty that Le Pen will make a meal out of this,” Petros Fassoulas, secretary general of European Movement International, which supports EU membership, said. “Le Pen is not so much interested in renegotiating France’s relationship with the EU. Her objective is to take France out.”
“Unfortunately she is not alone in that ambition. There are other far-right forces across Europe who are salivating at the prospect of the U.K. crashing out of the EU.”