Migrant crisis: France criticised by Craig Mackinlay
On Sunday, France goes to the polls to decide who will occupy the Elysée over the next five years. The centrist incumbent President Emmanuel Macron is taking on far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, whose manifesto is heavily centred on law and order, and immigration. In the past two weeks, Ms Le Pen’s policies have come under intense scrutiny while Mr Macron has soared past her in the polls.
In particular, during their two-and-a-half hour head-to-head debate on Wednesday, Mr Macron laid into Ms Le Pen’s links to Russia, reminding viewers of her outstanding loan from a prominent Russian bank.
Mr Macron said: “You are speaking to your banker when you speak to Russia”.
Though Ms Le Pen has condemned Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, she has openly admired Putin in the past, and even travelled to the Kremlin to meet the leader in the run-up to the 2017 French election.
She was one of the few western political voices to have supported Putin’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
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Now, speaking to Express.co.uk, Professor Andrew Smith, a contemporary politics professor at the University of Chichester, said that a Ms Le Pen victory would likely see France take a new and softer approach to Putin.
He said: “It would see France adopt a different stance in relation to Vladimir Putin.
“She is very clear that she believes people could and should work with Vladimir Putin so you’d probably see France looking at those kinds of steps.
“It could even lead potentially or eventually to a NATO withdrawal.
Le Pen met with Putin before the 2017 election
“It’s difficult because what these things do is destabilise international allegiances at a time when the value of those is becoming ever clearer.
“So, the first steps would be halting immagration in the style of Donald Trump, and playing a wrecker role in large international institutions like the European Union and NATO.”
This week, Ms Le Pen condemned the latest assault by Russia in a tweet as she aimed to distance herself from Putin ahead of the election.
She wrote: “I condemn Russia’s offensive against the Ukrainian people in Donbas.
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Macron laid bare Le Pen’s Putin links in the debate on Wednesday
“We must support all possible diplomatic efforts to reach a ceasefire and impose peace on Russia so that Ukraine regains its full sovereignty.”
Though Ms Le Pen has dropped her 2017 desire for Frexit — a French exit from the EU – she is known to be an admirer of Brexit and spoke about freeing France from the “straitjacket of Brussels” only this week.
The National Rally leader wants to remodel the EU from within and give French nationals in France priority over their EU counterparts ‒ a manifesto pledge which directly contradicts EU law.
Prof Smith continued: “It would be disastrous. It would be disastrous because in that model France looks more like Hungary.
Putin has been condemned across the West for his Ukraine invasion
“What it does is try to weaken the ties of European integration, instead refocusing ideas of what Marine Le Pen calls Europe of the nations, which is an old proto-fascist idea of Europe of 100 Flags.
“That idea of Europe of 100 Flags is this old idea of essentially promoting ideas of nation state-ism and a strong association with the idea of ethnic states. It would likely see France call a halt to immagration in a Trump style.”
To Professor Rainbow Murray, a French politics specialist at Queen Mary University of London, Ms Le Pen’s divisive politics would see the West lose a crucial ally.
Prof Murray told Express.co.uk: “She will be the lead on foreign policy and that is where the danger to the West comes in.
“First of all she doesn’t want to be part of NATO, she doesn’t like NATO. She doesn’t believe in sending arms to Ukraine, she doesn’t believe in blocking oil and gas imports from Russia.
“And so the West would lose a crucial ally with regards to Ukraine. I don’t think she would go so far as openly backing Russia but I think she would take France out of the equation altogether.
“That would be a problem.”
The academic also stressed that Mr Macron was right in hammering home his rival’s close ties with Russia, while she labelled Ms Le Pen “Putin’s pawn”.
Prof Murray said: “She is very much in Putin’s pocket. Almost literally in his financial pocket in the sense that she’s got a big loan from Russia she hasn’t finished paying off yet.
“[Macron needs] to really hammer home the fact this is Putin’s pawn, she’s planning to do all these scary things to our country.”