France’s Marine Le Pen sees her far right National Front joining force with other Eurosceptic parties in the next European Parliament to block a major transatlantic trade pact billed by supporters as vital for global growth and jobs.
In an interview with Reuters less than two weeks before the May 25 European Parliament election, Le Pen forecast that anti-EU parties would together win enough seats to form a political group in the legislature, gaining access to increased EU funding and a greater say in the assembly’s running.
She dismissed forecasts by some analysts that, even with a widely expected surge in support across the 28-nation bloc, Eurosceptics will struggle to wield influence in a parliament still set to be dominated by mainstream parties.
“There’s a whole list of projects that will be postponed because the (European) Commission will realize they won’t get them through the Parliament barrier,” said Le Pen, who has sat in the European Union parliament for a decade.
“Take the transatlantic trade deal: parts of the left are against it, the Eurosceptics are against it - it will be very tight. Will (the Commission) risk seeing a project as important as that being rejected, or will they put it on the back-burner?”
EU governments and the Obama administration launched talks last year on a deep and broad free trade and investment deal intended to help revive growth after the euro zone’s debt crisis by removing burdens and customs duties on business.
However, nine months into the talks, negotiators remain far apart on many issues and public hostility has grown towards the idea of unfettered transatlantic commerce that many fear would damage vulnerable national industries and so hit employment.
Le Pen advocates re-erecting trade barriers to protect French industries, dismissing arguments that export-dependent Europe stands to lose most from a global trade war.
Under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, the EU legislature gained the power to ratify international treaties. It has already flexed those muscles by rejecting a global Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in 2012 and rebuffing a transatlantic pact on exchanging personal data as infringing civil liberties.
Farage Stance “Tactical”
The French traditionally favor trade protection and often see to tie the European Commission’s negotiating hands on issues concerning agriculture and trade in cultural goods.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will press Paris’ demands for a “cultural exception” to free trade in audiovisual products and demands for a reciprocal opening of U.S. public procurement markets when he visits Washington this week, sources close to the minister said.
Opinion polls suggest Le Pen’s anti-immigration FN party, which advocates withdrawing from the European Union and ditching the euro currency, will win the most votes in France for the first time in a nationwide election. Recent surveys show the FN around 22 percent ahead of the opposition conservative UMP on 20 percent and President Francois Hollande’s Socialists on as little as 18 percent.
Le Pen said she expected the party to increase its number of seats from three now to 15-20, positioning it to co-preside a Eurosceptic political caucus in parliament, for which a minimum of 25 members from seven states is required.
She listed Geert De Wilders’ Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), the Austrian Freedom Party (FPO), Italy’s Northern League, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, the Sweden Democrats and Lithuanian ex-president Rolandas Paksas’ party as possible partners.
UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, vying with the opposition Labour party to top the poll in Britain, has said he would not ally with the FN because of what he called the latent anti-Semitism in its ranks. But Le Pen - who has sought to rid the party of that image since taking over from her father Jean-Marie in 2011 - said Farage’s position was purely tactical.
“You know what the English are like - they change their mind from time to time. His aim is to have a group with himself as leader… but if he doesn’t, perhaps the options are open,” said Le Pen, speaking in her office in a western Paris suburb.
Official political groups in the EU parliament have a number of advantages, including access to EU grants to hire staff and the right to sit on policy committees in the assembly.
Le Pen, 45, a trained lawyer, has given the National Front a broader appeal than it had under her father, an outspoken former paratrooper convicted for antisemitic comments. She has surfed on a growing wave of hostility to the EU in France since the euro zone’s economic and financial crisis erupted in late 2009.
She came third in the 2012 presidential election with 17.9 percent and the FN made gains in March town hall elections seen as a protest vote against Hollande and his government’s failure to tackle unemployment and high taxation.
However a BVA poll in Le Parisien this week found 68 percent of French still had a “negative opinion” of Le Pen personally while eight out of 10 reject her party’s call for France to ditch the euro and return to the franc. (Reuters)