After a nearly total blackout during the French right-wing primary election campaign, the position of François Fillon on the European Union is slowly emerging. If one should welcome the deep (unpopular) domestic structural changes, which he deems a necessary condition for restoring French credibility and leadership within the Union, his European policies are, nevertheless, riddled with contradictions:
- On the one hand a (respectable) sovereigntist posture, fully assumed, as expressed by the will to curtail the Commission’s powers but limiting its intervention to “certain specific domains”. This suggests that all other powers should be repatriated to national governments, along the lines requested by the “Brexeteers”.
- On the other, a “phony” display of federalism implemented through a “political directorate” of the EMU composed of Eurozone heads of Government. This grouping would be akin to a subset of the European Council (intergovernmental) which would be a substitute for the Eurogroupe.
The ambiguity of this posture is most likely deliberate, aiming at seducing both members of the extreme right and leftwing parties prior to the presidential elections, by adopting some of their “Eurosceptic” agenda.
However, failing more specific details concerning the governance of this new body, one should question its capacity to take decisions, implement them and ensure that they are enforced, all the more because one can guess that the underlying intention is to eliminate the Commission from the process. In this case, all the progress accomplished since the financial crisis through the ratification of the “Budgetary Treaty”, the implementation of the “European Semester” and of the “Six and Two Pack” legislation would be lost. Furthermore, the democratic legitimacy of this “Directoire” would be challenged as not being accountable to anyone.
Under such conditions, it is difficult to envisage the acquiescence of other EMU Member States, in particular with regard to the only concrete proposal mentioned by François Fillon, concerning the “mutualisation” of sovereign debts. Would he accept such a mutualisation on behalf of France if his country was in the same financial position as Germany? Would he not express demands, in particular abiding by a budgetary discipline from which, it is rumored, that he will seek a further exoneration for France from the very institution he proposes to emasculate!
This all too likely scenario should lead – after the campaign – to a quick retreat which will hark back to François Holland’s capitulation on the budgetary treaty. The impact will be all the more destructive that it will reinforce the credibility of all those who’s fondest wish is to bury the EU.
There is no doubt that there is a broadly shared view that the EU needs reforming and everyone will applaud if François Fillon can make a contribution by reforming his country. It remains true, however, that the need for a political Authority at EMU level is indispensable, if only to serve as an interlocutor to the ECB, which is the only “federal” institution within the Eurozone. Once “monetary” sovereignty is shared, it becomes impossible to ensure the long term credibility of the common currency if other fundamental elements of national sovereignty are not equally shared.
If, however, François Fillon is correct, as he may well be, in stating that Europeans are far from ready to take a bold “federal” leap in order to ensure their common future (in particular that of the younger generation), then the honest man that he is should tell the truth to the French people and prepare them for the dismantling of the single currency and the Union.