David Cameron’s plans to renegotiate the U.K.’s relationship with the EU are causing concerns in France, where officials fear that any discussion about Europe as an “ever closer union” will further fuel the rise of far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
While the British prime minister last month laid out his country’s demands from the EU in detail, French President François Hollande has said little in public about the proposed changes — beyond that Paris wants Britain to stay in the EU.
The reason for the reticence, officials said, is that France has no interest in starting a public debate about the EU’s flaws. Doing so would risk giving credit to the anti-EU arguments of the National Front and further accelerating the rise of Le Pen, who is fresh from gains in local elections, with her party’s candidates leading polls in six regions ahead of a second round of voting on Sunday. The local polls give Le Pen a huge boost ahead of a presidential election to be held in 2017, with Hollande still to announce if he will seek re-election. [...]
One particularly toxic issue is Britain’s demand to opt out of the EU’s ambition to forge an “ever closer union.” Those three words in the Lisbon Treaty are for many a mission statement for the Union, but for the British they raise fears of increased powers for Brussels at the expense of national governments. [...]
The National Front leader openly draws on Cameron’s approach, arguing that she is proposing to do for France what the British prime minister is already doing for his country.
While Le Pen used to argue for a complete withdrawal from the eurozone, she now wants to hold a referendum on that issue and others within six months of gaining power. The inspiration is British, despite significant differences between Le Pen’s demands and those from London.
“I am so happy to see David Cameron doing in the U.K. what I want to do for France,” Le Pen, who came in first place in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region Sunday, told Bloomberg last month.
In a letter to Cameron, European Council President Donald Tusk said the benefits ban was problematic, saying there was “no consensus” on the “difficult” issues raised.
But French officials do not see the benefits ban as particularly contentious. Many conservative voters sympathize with the British desire to halt the flow of EU migrants, the official said.
Rather, it’s the “ever closer union” section that irks.
“It’s a symbol, it’s a political statement,” said the official. [...]
However, as much as France fears a debate about the EU that could boost Le Pen, there is a more frightening scenario for the French Socialists: the U.K. leaving the EU altogether. That would be a dream come true for Le Pen, said Christophe Premat, a French Socialist MP. [...]
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