What if ‘Brexit’ – an outcome dreaded in Paris and European capitals – was a gift in disguise? The thought crystallised in François Hollande’s mind on Saturday, when he sat with Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front party, at the Elysée Palace. The French president hosted the full spectrum of French politicians to assess Britain’s Brexit vote. All eyes though were on Ms Le Pen, who had been sporting a victorious smile since the UK result.
The far-right leader quickly reiterated her wish to hold an EU referendum herself. “What would be the question?” the president asked her, according to a person who attended the meeting. In or out, she replied. “Out of the EU or the eurozone?” Of the EU, she confirmed – of the eurozone, the Schengen passport free zone, and all the rest. Ms Le Pen’s position has changed – in the 2012 presidential race she focused on scrapping the single currency. Like kindred spirits on the right of Dutch and Danish politics, she has been emboldened by the UK referendum, and become more radical.
For Mr Hollande, who despite record levels of unpopularity is contemplating reelection, it makes sense. Ms Le Pen’s core battle is immigration and she can blame the EU for a refugee influx. By putting the EU at the heart of the campaign, she also seeks to revive the eclectic 2005 coalition that voted down the EU constitution.
But it is a risky strategy. Read more