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Foreign experts consider likelihood of Frexit extremely low

23:35 | 24.03.2021 | Analytic

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24 March 2021. PenzaNews. The possibility of France leaving the European Union, by analogy with Brexit, remains one of the topics discussed after the publication in Le Figaro of an article by French analyst and journalist Laurent Herblay, who did not rule out such a scenario.

Foreign experts consider likelihood of Frexit extremely low

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In his opinion, the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated how the European industry and economy have sagged: up to 80% of the main ingredients for medicines are produced outside Europe – mainly in Asia, and there are almost no factories that make face masks. The observer claims that many states are already obtaining supplies of vaccines against COVID-19 from Russia and China, bypassing the EU decisions, because it is “slow and bad in its negotiations.”

Laurent Herblay notes that “the European Union is held responsible” for this situation, but instead of real support it offers countries to reduce healthcare costs. He also cites data that the United States has allocated almost 5 trillion US dollars to restore its economy, while in Europe funding amounted to about 300 billion euros.

According to the author, the UK demonstrated that that leaving the European Union only benefited it, since its own methods of dealing with the pandemic turned out to be much more effective than the EU’s strategy.

“The EU is an inadequate bureaucracy which has been paralyzing political action, without ever serving us,” Laurent Herblay writes.

According to the journalist, the pandemic helped supporters of the idea of Frexit to get new arguments for their position. He considers it quite realistic to organize a campaign for a complete break with the EU.

Commenting on information about a possible Frexit, John Laughland, director of studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in France, stressed that he did not share the assumptions made by the author of the publication.

He drew attention to the fact that this issue is not on the agenda of political parties.

“The possibility of France leaving the European Union is very unlikely. There is some small amount of support for it in France. Moreover, it is not supported by any of the main political parties as well as by the opposition parties, such as The National Rally under Marine Le Pen,” the analyst said.

He added that he does not see any significant prerequisites for such an idea to find support among a significant part of the French population.

In turn, Paul Smith, Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at School of Cultures, Language and Area Studies, University of Nottingham, called Frexit a chimera, and stressed that criticism of the EU does not mean readiness and desire of Paris to leave the EU.

“Brexit was built on the back of disaster capitalists exploiting a visceral Little Englander outlook. The French can do chauvinism just as well as the English – and have on occasions shown themselves to be deeply Eurosceptic. Nevertheless, despite the 2005 referendum result, subsequent elections have shown that the majority of the French people are committed to the EU or voted for candidates […] that are,” the analyst said.

In his opinion, the crisis caused by the pandemic cannot be considered a consequence of Brussels’ policies.

“While Le Pen and other – Melenchon and Montebourg on the left, for example – see the pandemic as revealing problems with production and supply and there is occasional talk of nationalisation of industry and so forth, that can be done. […] But Le Pen, Mélenchon, Montebourg know that the impact of Frexit on France would be catastrophic. Don’t let the vaccine roll-out fool you. France’s problems are made in France, not made in Brussels,” Paul Smith said.

“If Le Pen wants to fight a culture war, she will do it elsewhere, not over the EU,” the expert added.

Jacques Sapir, Director of studies at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris, Head of the Center for Research of Industrialization (CEMI-EHESS), Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, shared the opinion that there are no prerequisites for France to leave the EU, but suggested that the possibility of an “involuntary” Frexit is quite real.

“The last failure on vaccines due to their insufficient quantities and bad management of contracts has been worsened by the AstraZeneca suspension. French people are seeing that a number of EU countries are now acting by themselves and refuse to be constrained by EU rules. By the way, the lag in the so-called ‘European Rescue Plan’ implementation, and the arrogant attitude of Germany are creating a general climate quite adverse to the EU. One can then think that the new French President, who is to be elected in 2022, is to take a harsher view of the EU and try to better defend French interests be it on border control, on economic matters or on industrial policy. This does not mean wanting to exit, but would imply creating multi-pronged conflicts with the Brussels Commission on a lot of issues. And these conflicts, considering the current situation of tension and resentment inside the EU could well escalate quickly to a point non forecasted by anyone,” the professor explained.

At the same time, from his point of view, Frexit would put an end to the existence of the European Union.

“France is economically, geographically and on a symbolic sense at the very heart of the EU. Would France to exit from the EU, the EU would rapidly cease to exist. With an exit of France, the probability of Italy, Portugal and Spain to remain would be very low. […] It would become very hard to maintain what we could call ‘civilised’ relations among EU countries, and between countries that have been part of the EU. To the point that I think that if such a conflict goes escalating in such a dramatic way, reasonable people, be they in Brussels, Berlin or Paris, would try to dismantle in an orderly way the EU to preserve existing economic relations that are extremely important between countries,” Jacques Sapir said.

Richard Wolin, Distinguished Professor, the Graduate Center of The City University of New York, said that at present the EU is in an especially weakened state not only because of the botched pandemic response and the uncoordinated vaccine rollout out, but because there will be federal elections in Germany.

“Angela Merkel is leaving after a 16-year stint as Bundeskanzlerin, and there is significant political uncertainty about what will come next. […] Nevertheless, even though the EU is extremely unpopular in many quarters at the moment, the likelihood of a Frexit is, at least for now, a distant prospect,” the expert said.

“For one, French political and financial elites are unlikely to accept the uncertainties and dislocations of severing the EU connection. Also, the National Rally, under Marine Le Pen, […] has officially stated that it is opposed to withdrawing from the EU. Hence, even were she to be elected president in 2022 […], to withdraw from the EU would mean reversing a major campaign promise, meaning that the political costs of doing so would be unacceptable,” Richard Wolin added.

In his opinion, in France at the moment, it would be hard to identify a major political actor who could “lead the charge.”

“The moral of the story, if there is one, from the standpoint of the French electorate is: sometimes, it is better to stick with the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. In other words, even though the EU has shown itself to be dysfunctional, for the foreseeable future, a Frexit would be unlikely. France, historically, has so much political capital invested in the EU, that it would be difficult to withdraw this this point. Even though, Great Britain, after much delay and confusion, succeeded in extricating itself from the EU, it turned out to be a laborious, drawn out, and fraught process: in other words, not a precedent or model for current EU member nations to emulate,” the expert concluded.

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