European Voices: France‎

France and Britain could confront the EU

There is an alternative to the populist right.

Martin PairetNetwork Manager

Berlin – I am a convinced European and I would definitely vote for the UK to stay in the EU. In France, if the UK leaves the EU, it would be a terrible message to our citizens. Not because the UK leaving Europe is of particular interest to them or will rock their world (try talking about Brexit to a cashier in a medium-sized city in Provence) but because it would mean that it is possible to revert to the nation-state.

It would also mean for some of the French that we should not feel ashamed of protecting our own identitarian ideal and economic privileges as Europeans. Fighting for this ideal or privileges, whether it was during the Second World War or today, only leads us to digging graves for people. The French could easily get into this exit breach: 53% of the French, according to a study in Edinburgh, would vote for Frexit.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme-right’s party Front National, supports Brexit and understands very well what kind of impact it would have on the French. She used all the arguments of the left to justify why we should get out of the European Union: the bureaucratic and elitist politicians ignoring people’s realities and struggles, the opaque and undemocratic decision-making processes etc.

My fellow countrymen are very receptive to those messages, and even though one could agree (who wouldn’t?), accepting her arguments would mean accepting something anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, anti-migrant, anti-gay, anti any kind of diversity and unknown. But, she is the anti-EU voice in France, and Brexit is meat and drink on the table for her party. Is this really what the Brits and the French want for Europe? A nationalist wave?

On the contrary, I think what France and the UK need to do is to build a strong populism of the left, as Chantal Mouffe puts it, capable of winning over the discourse of Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage. If we want to give a strong message to the EU, let’s do it together, across the channel and across borders.

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