The EU has its money on pro- European presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron in Sunday’s French run-off vote, wary of the threat posed by Marine Le Pen who calls for the bloc’s destruction. A host of top Brussels figures led by Jean-Claude Juncker have broken with their usual protocol of not interfering in national elections to openly back the centrist former banker to beat far-right leader Le Pen. In the European Union’s corridors of power, Macron is seen as more than just a frontline defence against populism as seen with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump in the US.
To many, 39-year-old Macron represents a breath of fresh air that could offer the embattled bloc a sorely needed chance to push ahead with unifying new projects after years of crisis.
“We are crossing our fingers,” one senior EU official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Macron’s gruelling televised debate with Le Pen on Wednesday was “watched widely” at the highest levels of the European institutions, “including by non-French colleagues”, the EU official said. “Of course we see Macron in a positive way. We have the feeling that we can work with Macron because his project isn’t to destroy the EU as with Le Pen,” the official added.
This week EU Brexit negotiator and former French minister Michel Barnier said he would vote for Macron, saying that France would “stay European” under him. Le Pen’s disdain for Europe is deep. She has long wanted France to drop the euro single currency and return to the franc, and also leave Europe’s Schengen visa-free travel zone.
She has predicted the EU “will die” and has vowed to hold a “Frexit” referendum on France’s membership of the European Union. Macron, also a former economy minister, wants to bolster the EU and the eurozone. He wants to set up a separate budget for the 19 countries that use the common currency. He also proposes giving the eurozone its own parliament and finance minister. “Macron’s victory would bring a huge sigh of relief because of all the candidates he is the one who backed further EU integration: no if, and or buts,” said Vincenzo Scarpetta, senior policy analyst at Open Europe. It was this vision that led the EU’s most senior figures to openly show their excitement when Macron narrowly beat the second place Le Pen in the first round of the French vote on April 23.