Frexit in a decade? The real warning from France

The real story of France's elections for the European project is that mass opposition to the EU is now right at the heart of the French political agenda. France is probably where Britain was a decade ago. Frexit in 10 years, anyone?

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Macron has won, but France remains divided
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the commentator
On 8 May 2017 10:17

We had predicted two things about France's presidential elections: Emmanuel Macron would win, and the European political establishment would fail to understand that the result only served to underline the ongoing precariousness of its position.

Both turned out to be correct. Macron defeated Marine Le Pen by 66 percent to 34 percent; sighs of relief that the "populist surge" has been "defeated" have again echoed across the continent.

It was a similar story for the Austrian presidential elections last year when Alexander Van der Bellen defeated far right candidate Norbert Hofer by 54 percent to 46 percent. You really have to wonder what there is to celebrate when almost one in two people in the country which gave the world Adolf Hitler voted for a candidate with an ambiguous attitude to the country's Nazi past.

But this is modern Europe, and it is easier to live in fantasy world these days than confront the stark realities.

There are many things one could say about the French elections, but let us stick to the implications for the European Union.

For a start, more than a third of French voters opted for a candidate who would have effectively pulled the plug on French membership of the EU.

If you look at the first round of voting and add up Le Pen's tally with that of far Left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and other eurosceptic candidates, around 46 percent of French voters have cast their ballots in recent weeks in favour of politicians who would sink the European project as we know it.

Taking into account that not everyone who opted for people such as Le Pen and Melenchon makes a priority of ending France's current arrangements with the EU, it seems fair to say that in terms of the Europe question France is probably where Britain was about a decade ago: leaving the EU is still a minority ambition, but it is now right up there on the political agenda.

A couple of electoral cycles down the road, a bit more disillusionment with mainstream politics here, a crisis or two in the eurozone there, and it is not hard to imagine a confluence of forces which rips the heart out of the European project in a relatively short period of time.

Of course, if you bet on continuity you usually end up being right. But massive political upheaval in Europe is no longer the stuff of wild and fanciful speculation.

Yesterday, one in three French voters backed Marine Le Pen. She and her politics are down, but they're certainly not out.

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