Europhiles wor­ried by Fil­lon’s lead over Juppe

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Af­ter metic­u­lously avoid­ing the sub­ject of Europe in the first round of the pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, the French Repub­li­can Party’s re­main­ing can­di­dates will have no choice but to tackle the di­vi­sive is­sue head on in the sec­ond round. EurAc­tiv France re­ports.

While un­der­stated, Alain Juppe’s cam­paign has been firmly pro-Euro­pean. He ap­pears to be the first choice for French vot­ers liv­ing abroad, par­tic­u­larly in the Benelux coun­tries, where he took 48% of the vote in the first round of the pri­mary. Fran­cois Fil­lon and Ni­co­las Sarkozy took 35% and 7%, re­spec­tively.

The veteran politi­cian, who served as prime min­is­ter un­der Jac­ques Chirac and for­eign min­is­ter un­der Sarkozy, has filled his cam­paign team with spe­cial­ists on Euro­pean af­fairs, in­clud­ing MEP Alain La­mas­soure and Se­na­tor Fa­bi­enne Keller. He also met with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel in June. Ac­cord­ing to our sources, they dis­cussed a plan to breathe life back into the Euro­pean project and re­an­i­mate its ail­ing com­mu­nal spirit… as­sum­ing they are both elected next year.

“The main role of a pres­i­dent is in­ter­na­tional: he rep­re­sents France at the Euro­pean level, and his first vis­its should be to Ber­lin and Brus­sels, not Li­mo­ges,” one of the can­di­date’s aides said.

For Juppe, restor­ing France’s cred­i­bil­ity in Ber­lin means restor­ing fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity at home. With this in mind, his team has drawn up a fi­nance bill de­signed to re­as­sure France’s Euro­pean part­ners with medium-term cuts to public spend­ing.

His vi­sion for Europe is a tighter, more in­te­grated Union, fo­cussed on a smaller num­ber of core coun­tries. In this re­gard, Juppe’s sees al­most eye-to-eye with Fran­cois Hol­lande and Em­manuel Macron.

Fran­cois Fil­lon’s ap­proach is rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent. As he in­di­cated in a speech to the French par­lia­ment the day af­ter Brexit, the Parisian MP wants to re­duce the power of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, giv­ing more con­trol to the Coun­cil of the EU.

“We will never be one fed­eral state. We are just too dif­fer­ent. And, in­ci­den­tally, it would be a his­toric mis­take, be­cause closer ties be­tween states breed more ag­gres­sive na­tion­al­ism,” Fil­lon said.

He also evoked the

es­tab­lish­ment

of

a

eu­ro­zone govern­ment, formed not of a spe­cially-elected eu­ro­zone par­lia­ment, but of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from na­tional par­lia­ments and gov­ern­ments.

Na­tional Front MEP Flo­rian Philip­pot at­tacked the Repub­li­can fron­trun­ner on Sun­day evening, say­ing his plans would hand more power over to Brus­sels. Fil­lon’s spokesman Jerome Chartier im­me­di­ately coun­tered the claim, say­ing that, on the con­trary, the can­di­date in­tended to claw pow­ers back from Europe. In short, Fil­lon’s calls to de­fend French sovereignty in re­sponse to ap­peals for more Europe are de­signed to win over po­ten­tial Na­tional Front vot­ers.

Sarkozy’s de­ci­sion to sup­port Fil­lon for the Repub­li­can can­di­dacy af­ter his own elim­i­na­tion in the first round of the pri­mary has broad­ened his for­mer prime min­is­ter’s sup­port base. It has also placed him firmly on Sarkozy’s Eu­roskep­tic plat­form.

Hol­lande’s pre­de­ces­sor made a very bad im­pres­sion at the Euro­pean Peo­ple’s Party (EPP) sum­mit in the South of France in June. Be­fore a room full of con­vinced Europhiles, the leader of the Repub­li­can Party held forth about the rights and wrongs of Europe dic­tat­ing the straight­ness of cu­cum­bers and the size of steplad­ders; well-worn pop­ulist ter­rain. He went on to say that in his view, a coun­try was first and fore­most a bor­der. This was a great dis­ap­point­ment to the other EPP dig­ni­taries, who had rather fonder mem­o­ries of Sarkozy, from the pro-Europe speeches he de­liv­ered in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

This sur­pris­ing cam­paign came to an abrupt end on Sun­day night, caus­ing Sarkozy to with­draw from po­lit­i­cal life for the sec­ond time. But ac­cord­ing to Swiss news­pa­per Le Temps, a come­back at Euro­pean level can­not be ruled out: Don­ald Tusk will va­cate his po­si­tion at the head of the Coun­cil early next year, and some ob­servers be­lieve the Repub­li­can leader could be lin­ing up to re­place him.

The greatest con­cern for France’s Euro­pean part­ners is the next pres­i­dent’s for­eign pol­icy pri­or­i­ties. Fas­ci­nated by Vladimir Putin, Fil­lon has in the past shown a com­pla­cent at­ti­tude to­wards Rus­sia, par­tic­u­larly on the Ukrainian con­flict. He be­came fa­mil­iar with the Rus­sian leader while serv­ing as prime min­is­ter. And has main­tained con­tact since leav­ing of­fice, vis­it­ing Putin’s per­sonal datcha and at­tend­ing the Win­ter Olympics in Sochi.

It is hard to im­age Fil­lon push­ing Europe to strengthen its sanc­tions on Rus­sia, if he be­comes pres­i­dent.

And Rus­sia’s pro­pa­ganda ma­chine could hardly be clearer: the MP is a reg­u­lar reader of Sput­nik, the Krem­lin-fi­nanced mul­ti­lin­gual news ser­vice, and the site has ded­i­cated sev­eral ar­ti­cles to Fil­lon’s praise for Putin’s ac­tions in Syria.

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