THE BREXIT SPIN-OFF
I first heard of ‘#frexit’ in late 2016. It had been a gruelling, bleak year in the aftermath of the #brexit referendum, so I was up for a bit of a giggle. My first thought was that it reminded me of the name of a cabbage and potato gratin I tasted during a camping trip to South Tyrol in the summer of 2003. Or the sound I make when I sneeze.
Britain was dismissed as too ‘insular’ and ‘maritime’ by Charles De Gaulle, who vetoed the UK’s first attempt to join what was then called the European Economic Community (ECC) in 1961. Eventually though, once he left office in 1969, it took the UK a mere four years to enter into the European fold, finally becoming a member in 1973. Some forty years later, the UK is barging out with jingoistic fanfare. Many a brexiter would very much like France to follow.
Never one to anglicise their language, the French translate the bite-sized portmanteau ‘#frexit’ into the much lengthier and far more French-sounding ‘sortie de la France de l’Union européenne’ and exit variations thereof (the euro, NATO, Schengen, your mum).
Unlike in the UK, the European Union is not seen as the cause of domestic woes in France, nor as a menace to France’s relatively secure national identity. Instead, it is seen by many to be the unpalatable consequence of globalisation. A #frexit wouldn’t seek to build a global and ambitious new plan for the country, a “global France”, as it were.
Much like #brexit, though, the political end game would be to attempt to salvage a sort of domestic sovereignty which was never threatened in the first place; to emphasise French values as the sole rampart against the (often imagined) assaults of immigration; to prevent the so-called dilution of French culture. The ideological end game is to provide the French far-right with a measure of popular validation. A #frexit would provide them with a measure of control in implementing their notably repressive and inward-looking agendas.
The French far-right cannot run solely on an anti-EU platform
The French far-right cannot run solely on an anti-EU platform however as it is not their only raison d’être. It wouldn’t be enough to sway the French electorate. For this reason, the French far-right tends to be more cautious, tip-toeing towards an EU exit instead of running.
The question of France’s membership of the European Union isn’t central to the political narrative. In fact, it is treated as more of an afterthought, part of, but not essential to the spectrum of solutions. The country’s scathing unemployment rates and the threat of Islamic terror cannot be solved by walking away.
Anti-EU platforms do have a bit more meat to them than UKIP’s strident out out out mantra. They’ve been around for longer than UKIP, too, and if they are to remain a fixture in the French political landscape, they should plan accordingly. Conversely, pro-EU platforms, which recognise the merits of pan-continental cooperation, adopt a status quo approach where France, within the scope of the Union, confirms its status as a big European player.
View the 11 French presidential candidates and their policies
Is #frexit legit?
The sheer scope of the #brexit negotiations would daunt all but the most seasoned negotiators. But for the UK, an island nation with very little in the way of land borders with the EU (just Northern Ireland), that has opted out of both the Schengen area and the Eurozone, the UK government is able to weave an insular narrative where the Conservative party’s political interests are paramount to Britain’s cultural interests, themselves paramount to the EU’s red lines, prosperity be damned.
France on the other hand, is one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (EEC) and an EU-bankrolled Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) powerhouse. It shares a currency and 3,000 kilometres of open borders with no less than five fellow member states. If #brexit sounds like a costly and complex divorce, #frexit would be a break-up of almost biblical proportions.
Brexit stems from an internal Conservative squabble and a nasty streak of neo-colonialist exceptionalism. But the idea of Frexit was brought about by a wave of strident copycat jingoism, and is further compounded by the press and the population’s bemusement in the face of “la grande bêtise anglaise”. Marine Le Pen is obviously eager to associate herself with fellow foreign allies, in an uncharacteristic breach of her own chauvinistic agenda, insofar that they are a bleak, much-despised means to an even bleaker end.
The real test, where popular assent translates into true political power, is the July legislative elections.
I like to think that the French political system seeks to achieve reasonable political consensus. The real test, where popular assent translates into true political power, is the July legislative elections. The future president must secure the necessary parliamentary clout in these elections to be able to implement their platform. This would be a tall order for the likes of Marine Le Pen, who currently only has two MPs out of 577, one of which is her PR-trainwreck of a niece.
As #brexit and the consequences of a Trump administration start to unravel in the face of reality, the #frexit window of opportunity grows ever narrower, and with it Le Pen family’s single shot at the presidency. Let’s make sure we bolt the window shut on her way out.