What if Melenchon or Le Pen wins? EU has no Plan B

People wave French and European flags during a pro-European Union rally titled Pulse of Europe at Goetheplatz square in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on April 9, 2017.
People wave French and European flags during a pro-European Union rally titled Pulse of Europe at Goetheplatz square in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on April 9, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

Brussels hoping for centrist win, but doubtful if Macron, Fillon can revive French economy

BRUSSELS • The European Union has no special plan if the two anti-EU candidates reach the final round of France's presidential election tomorrow, diplomats said, leaving the bloc to brace itself and hope for a centrist victor.

"If Marine Le Pen wins the election, the European Union as we know it ceases to exist," said one senior EU diplomat, who formerly served in Paris, of the far-right leader who threatens to leave the EU without a quick re-negotiation.

"Then we have to think about other models... There is no Plan B," the diplomat said.

"(Brussels) is shivering inside."

EU leaders will be able to take stock of any first-round surprise at a summit on April 29 to discuss preparations for Britain's exit negotiations. But diplomats insisted there was no plan if Ms Le Pen and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon go into the May 7 run-off.

NO PLAN FOR LE PEN

If Marine Le Pen wins the election, the European Union as we know it ceases to exist. Then we have to think about other models... There is no Plan B. (Brussels) is shivering inside.

A SENIOR EU DIPLOMAT, on how the EU would respond in May should far-right candidate Marine Le Pen emerge the winner in the French presidential elections

In a new interview, Ms Le Pen has pledged not to force France out of the euro if voters reject her plans in a referendum. She had earlier promised to call a vote on quitting the single currency if she wins the presidential election.

"I never regret telling the truth to the French people, telling them that at the end of this negotiation, they will be the ones who decide by referendum," Ms Le Pen said in an interview on France 2 television.

"I'll never commit France to such an important choice without having your opinion, your accord. I'll do nothing without your consent."

Even without a shock outcome, Brussels worries that neither of the more mainstream candidates can revive France's economy or help Germany confront doubts about the EU's future if they are victorious in a May run-off.

Diplomats said France needs a leader who will modernise heavily regulated sectors of the economy and tackle the rigid French labour market, helping to reverse its decline as an economic power relative to Germany over the past two decades.

There is concern that neither youthful independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, who lacks experience, nor centre-right former prime minister Francois Fillon, whose campaign was dogged by scandal, would have the vision or authority to bring change.

With Brexit pending, Germany needs a strong France to reinvigorate the EU and make the euro zone stronger and more sustainable. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has received both Mr Macron and Mr Fillon in Berlin.

"The fact that Le Pen and Melenchon didn't go to Berlin speaks volumes about the difficulties which would arise if either was elected," said Mr Manuel Lafont Rapnouil, a Paris-based political analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

SEE OPINION: The coming French Revolution

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2017, with the headline 'What if Melenchon or Le Pen wins? EU has no Plan B'. Print Edition | Subscribe