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FRANCE EXPLAINED

How do the French feel about the EU?

France is one of the twin 'engines' of the EU and Emmanuel Macron is emerging as the de facto leader of the Bloc over Ukraine - but what do ordinary French people think about EU membership? And is there any support for a 'Frexit'?

The French are deeply ambivalent about the EU
The French are deeply ambivalent about the EU, but there is no real risk of a Frexit anytime soon. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Surveys suggest that the French have mixed feelings about the European Union. 

In January, a polling company called Elabe conducted a representative survey of 1,000 French people over the age of 18. They found that 39 percent of respondents thought that EU membership carried as many disadvantages as advantages; 33 percent said that there were more disadvantages; while 27 percent said there were more advantages. 

“If we are pragmatic about it, of course we are obliged to be part of Europe, because we cannot act alone considering what is happening in Ukraine or with the pandemic,” said Chlo, a Paris-based pensioner. 

“But the French people voted against the European constitution [the Lisbon Treaty] and it was imposed on us anyway. I think that really winds people up. They don’t see why politicians in Brussels or Strasbourg are more followed than our own MPs.”

The Elabe poll showed that men were more likely to have a negative perception of French membership of the EU than women, with the biggest sceptics aged between 35-49. People aged 18-24 had the most positive impression.

Those who supported French President Emmanuel Macron – an ardent Europhile – at the 2017 election were the most likely to say that membership of the bloc was advantageous (58 percent) – while only 9 percent of those who backed far-right leader Marine Le Pen shared the same view. 

Negative feeling towards the bloc has decreased since 2016, when the UK voted to leave. An Odoxa poll from 2019 found that 66 percent of French people said that Brexit would make other Europeans less likely to want to leave the bloc. 

The French have a mixed feeling towards the EU.

The grey line indicates the percentage of the population who think that French membership of the bloc carries equal pros and cons; the black line indicates those who have a negative perception and the yellow line represents those who have a positive view. (Source: Elabe 2022)

“Brexit really cost UK a lot economically,” said Sacha Sarfati, a financial auditor in Paris. “If France was to leave, it would cost us too.”

However the Elabe survey found that the majority of French people thought that the EU was not up to the task of tackling the economic fallout (55 percent) and health crisis (60 percent) caused by the pandemic. 

The French are less enthusiastic about the EU than many other member states. 

An IFOP survey published in December 2021 found that 29 percent of French people wanted a “more integrated” Europe, versus 43 percent of Germans and 50 percent of Italians. The French were also less likely to say that they were proud Europeans.

Where do the French presidential candidates stand on Europe? 

In 2017, François Asselineau ran as a presidential candidate for a pro-Frexit party called the Union Populaire Républicaine, winning less than one percent of the vote. This time around, he failed to get enough parrainages to compete in the race. 

None of the candidates in the 2022 French presidential election are openly calling for France to leave the EU. 

Macron is avidly pro-European and since the start of the Ukraine war has been pushing for greater European co-operation on defence and energy policy.

“Wanting to weaken Europe is to leave France alone facing the threats of the world. Europe must be an extra protection for France,” reads his manifesto. 

He has stressed the need for the EU to become more autonomous by investing more resources in defence, energy and technology.  

Back in 2017, Marine Le Pen advocated leaving the European Union, which she described as “an illegitimate supranational structure” and abandoning the Euro currency. Since then, she has changed tack. 

Le Pen is no longer in favour of Frexit, but would like to withdraw France from various EU treaties and get rid of the EU Commission, transforming it into a technical secretariat for the EU Council. She wants to transform the bloc into an association of allied member states capable of negotiating bilateral deals between themselves – something that would be very difficult to achieve within the Bloc.

“I am here to make the will of the French people respected,” she told France Inter in January. We will make [French] constitutional law superior to European law”. 

Valérie Pécresse, candidate of the centre-right Les Républicains, has called for an “overhaul” of the Schengen agreement under which people can move freely within the EU. This too is unlikely to fly with officials in Brussels. 

The campaign website of the main left-wing candidate in the election, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, gives a scathing account of the EU – particularly the free-market foundations of the bloc, which he claims are leading to social and ecological catastrophe. 

He would like the EU to give member states greater sovereignty over their budget and to enshrine greater environmental protection and harmonisation between the countries. 

The extreme-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, has a position on Europe that blends the most hostile elements of the Le Pen and Pécresse programmes. He would like to transform the EU into a collective of independent states, scrap EU rules on migration and prevent Turkey from joining the bloc. He would also like to ban the display of the EU flag in France without a French flag displayed next to it. 

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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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