quinta-feira, 20 de abril de 2017
President Marine Le Pen’s first 100 days
President Marine Le Pen’s first 100 days
What should the world expect if she takes power?
By NICHOLAS VINOCUR 4/20/17, 4:00 AM CET Updated 4/20/17, 9:29 AM CET
PARIS — This is the moment France’s ruling elite hoped they would never see. Newly-elected, President Marine Le Pen is walking up a red carpet to the door of the Elysée palace.
The date is May 14, 2017, one week after the far-right leader of the National Front edged out her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron in the final round of a presidential election. The ceremonial transfer of power from one elected leader to another lasts for just a few minutes. Outgoing President François Hollande greets the president-elect on the steps of her new home, the nexus of French power, before he is whisked away in a Citroën with tinted windows.
It’s a handover unlike any other in postwar French history. The newly elected president wants to wrench the country in an entirely new direction: pull it out of the European Union, rewrite its constitution, pivot its foreign policy toward Russia. For now, France — and the rest of the world — can only watch, and wonder. How much of her agenda will she be able to accomplish?
The prospect of a Le Pen presidency has occupied the French imagination ever since the lawyer-by-training took over the National Front party from her father, Jean-Marie, in 2011. A comic book exploring this hypothetical, titled “La Présidente,” shot to the top of bestseller lists in 2015 and clung there for weeks. (The series is now in its third installment, imagining her second term in power.)
Analysts say that markets have yet to fully price in the risk of Le Pen’s election, which means that the “correction” in positions that would follow it would be particularly abrupt.
But as the first round of France’s election on April 23 draws near, fictional accounts are reaching their sell-by date, and the world is starting to grapple with the possibility of her actually being elected. If polls are to be believed, a Le Pen victory remains unlikely. But there is a scenario, not too farfetched, under which she could win. And that slim chance has consequences too great to ignore, especially for investors who hold hundreds of billions of euros in French government debt and company stock.
What should the world expect from President Le Pen? A partial answer can be found in her 144-point campaign platform. It promises radical, jarring change that starts with rewriting the Constitution; enforcing the principle of “national preference” for French citizens in hiring as well as the dispensing of housing and benefits; reinstating the franc as the national currency; shutting down the country’s borders and suspending its participation in the EU free-travel zone; pulling out of NATO’s integrated command structure; and slashing immigration to one-tenth of its current annual level.
Yet the chances of seeing such plans implemented, even fractionally, are slim. As some of her aides admit, Le Pen’s program represents her vision of France, not a roadmap to get there. In order to see it through, the newly-elected president would first need to consolidate her power by winning control over the lower house of parliament in a June election — or by rejigging the system to allow her to rule with a much narrower level of support.
Taking such challenges into account, POLITICO put together one scenario of Le Pen’s first 100 days based on hours of talks with senior party officials, European diplomats, MEPs, financial analysts, country experts and regular people. What emerges is a narrative of constant crisis mixed with long stretches of institutional paralysis, starting on day one.
The great Le Pen crunch
If election night is given over to emotion, the morning of May 8 will be one of sober reckoning. The French are likely to wake up to accounts of the night’s toll: rioting in impoverished urban fringes with large immigrant populations, coupled with a major financial attack on French stocks and bonds.
Of the two, in the short term at least, the economic blowback is likely to be more brutal. Analysts say that markets have yet to fully price in the risk of Le Pen’s election, which means that the “correction” in positions that would follow it would be particularly abrupt. According to one scenario drawn up by JP Morgan, the first effect would be a spike in French borrowing costs as markets adjusted to the idea that France could soon re-denominate nearly €2 trillion of debt into French francs, which would be initially pegged to the euro but would not be protected by the European Central Bank.
The “spread” in interest rates between French and German government bonds, which normally holds steady below 20 basis points (the spread is counted in 100ths of one percentage point), would blow out to 200 basis points, reflecting the threat of catastrophic sovereign default. Rating agencies would issue warnings about the risk of Le Pen carrying out her plan to leave the EU. French shares would tank, dragging down European stock markets, and the euro would shed 10 percent of its value against the dollar.
Such extreme volatility would alarm savers and investors, triggering an initial wave of capital flight that would gather momentum in the coming weeks. But Le Pen, who would have spent the night celebrating with her friends — perhaps among them her Hitler-admiring university pal and communication adviser Frédéric Chatillon — would probably welcome the mayhem as an opportunity to press her political agenda.
Le Pen’s aides do provide hints as to the first cabinet’s orientation and possible contenders for top seats.
If her comments after Brexit are any guide, she would praise the drop in the euro as a “competitive devaluation” for France, while blasting traders for trying to “punish” the popular will.
Meanwhile, Le Pen would address rioting with promises of an immediate crackdown on “vandals” and “bandits,” invoking a “clear risk to national security.” This happens to be the only condition under which a member of the Schengen Agreement is allowed to suspend its participation in the free-travel zone, giving her reason to shut down most immigration to France just days after being sworn into office.
Le Pen’s first cabinet
At the same time, Le Pen would be grappling with the first real challenge of her presidency: forming a government. Aides are cagey about the exact composition of her cabinet for a few reasons, foremost among them the possibility that Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve could refuse to hand in his resignation at the end of Hollande’s term (he has denied intending to do so). In France, presidents need a majority in parliament to govern effectively. There’s also the fact that Le Pen’s first team would only sit until June’s legislative elections, after which she would have to reshuffle to reflect the outcome of the vote.
Le Pen’s aides do provide hints as to the first cabinet’s orientation and possible contenders for top seats. According to Sébastien Chenu, a transplant from the conservative party who is close to Le Pen, the president would want to reach out to independents and conservatives to improve her chances of securing a majority in parliament. “It’s going to be a government of openness in which you are likely to find members of other political families,” he said.
Chenu and others declined to match candidates with positions. But Chenu, who also advises Le Pen on cultural affairs, did say the prime minister was unlikely to be a party member, ruling out influential National Front Vice President Florian Philippot, and Le Pen herself has ruled out any ministerial posting for her popular niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.
According to several party members, candidates for frontline cabinet postings include the right-wing sovereignist and anti-Islam thinker Philippe de Villiers, who is close to the National Front; Henri Guaino, a Gaullist former speechwriter to ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy; pro-Russian MP Thierry Mariani; and independent sovereignist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. “These are all people who are close to our positions, who would represent openness,” said Chenu. “But we have contacts with lots of other people from rival parties who will be willing to come out of the woodwork after the first round [of the election].” A senior Front official said that Le Pen’s controversial communications adviser Chatillon, who is under investigation on suspicion of campaign finance fraud, would “not be up for interior minister.”
Her cabinet slots filled, Le Pen would have to staff the broader administration, which is a monumental task. Under France’s presidential system, the head of the executive is personally responsible for naming as many as 10,000 government officials. Normally, most civil servants remain in their posts from one administration to the next. But with Le Pen, there would be questions of loyalty, as some civil servants could resist carrying out her orders — a problem similar to that faced by U.S. President Donald Trump when he clashed with intelligence agencies during his first weeks in power.
Jean Messiha, a graduate of the elite ENA school of public administration who is in charge of recruiting senior civil servants for a Le Pen government, brushed off the potential for clashes with intelligence agencies, arguing that the president would swiftly win over the loyalty of most key government ministries. “Most of the police already vote for Le Pen,” he said. “And we have legions of supporters in the armed forces.”
Purging the judiciary
Messiha acknowledged challenges in other branches of government, notably the judiciary. In several recent rallies, Le Pen has lashed out at magistrates conducting investigations into multiple cases against her, including allegations that she misused European Parliament funds to pay party assistants. (The National Front president refused to answer questions from police about the case, invoking her legal immunity as a member of the European Parliament.)
Asked if the president would retaliate against magistrates once in power, as she has suggested she would, Messiha said: “The magistrate corps is not an independent entity that can choose who it wants to serve. These are administrative entities whose job it is to enforce the political project that the people have chosen. Wherever there are problems, of course, punitive measures will be taken.” In order to ensure loyalty in all branches of government, “new men” could be required, he added.
Important roles would be distributed among a group of some 150 senior civil servants who belong to a group known as the “Horatii” — Le Pen loyalists.
The same principle would apply to senior non-cabinet posts, like the director of the treasury and secretary general of the Elysée, the person in charge of managing the president’s agenda. Messiha said that the National Front, which unlike its rivals lacks a deep field of senior civil servants, had been at work for two years recruiting and vetting candidates through an internal human resources department. (Centrist candidate Macron, who is also not part of a mainstream party, faces a similar challenge but has a wider network of senior civil servants to call upon.)
Important roles would be distributed among a group of some 150 senior civil servants who belong to a group known as the “Horatii” — Le Pen loyalists who are hedging their bets by not divulging their identities, and whose number is impossible to verify independently. “These 150 represent a Praetorian Guard,” said Messiha. “They will make up the hardcore of all government action. But beyond them are people who do not belong to the Horatii who have let us know they are interested in working with us.”
He added: “Overall, we have names for 80-90 percent of all strategic positions in the senior administration. The idea is to arrive on the morning of May 8 with most of the key appointments already worked out.”
The battle of Brussels
Having filled her administration, Le Pen would have only a brief window in which to act before legislative elections on June 11 and 18. After reinstating border controls and expelling dozens of so-called foreign suspected terrorists, she would turn to face her nemesis: Brussels. According to several party aides, Le Pen’s first act on the international scene would be to travel to the European capital and hand a letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk outlining French “demands” for EU reform.
This move would break starkly with a French tradition whereby incoming presidents first pay homage to the Franco-German partnership by traveling to Berlin. And it would establish Le Pen’s anti-EU agenda as official French policy, setting the stage for an unprecedented diplomatic confrontation between Paris, Brussels and Berlin that would color her entire presidency.
The National Front has never spelled out exactly what Le Pen’s demands to the EU would be. But judging by her 144 proposals, they would amount to nothing less than the complete exemption for France from all four of the EU’s “fundamental freedoms.” She would demand the right to close national borders permanently, prioritize French workers over others and rescind all free-trade agreements unilaterally, in addition to banning Islamic veils in public — demands that would amount to as many violations of EU treaties, forming the basis for a very rocky “negotiation.”
Like former British Prime Minister David Cameron, Le Pen foresees a period of talks with the EU before she holds a referendum on membership “after the Italian election” — or sometime in late 2018 — according to her latest remarks. But unlike Cameron, who supported remaining in the EU, Le Pen has always made clear that she wants France to withdraw no matter how the talks go. “There will be a referendum,” echoed Messiha.
Le Pen’s stance might seem to make any talks with the EU irrelevant, but Bertrand Dutheil de la Rochère, a senior party aide who is close to Philippot, said her desire to negotiate was “sincere.” The new president, he said, would seek to build a coalition of member states that also wanted to reform, or unravel, the EU, among which he cited “Spain, Portugal, Italy, Finland and Austria” — countries that either have resurgent right-wing populist parties or reasons to resent German-led austerity in Europe.
The aim would be to obtain what Messiha termed a “total reconsideration” of the EU’s basic principles in order to “return sovereignty to nation states.” Both aides to Le Pen expressed confidence that France, as an EU founding member, would be able to impose its will on recalcitrant partners. “Germany will not have a choice,” said Messiha.
However, several Front officials acknowledged that the party had not held any talks with the government or parties in Berlin. When Le Pen held a “presidential conference” in Paris last February, ambassadors from 46 nations attended — but not Germany or Britain. Messiha blamed the German government’s “closed-mindedness” for the absence of dialogue. “I dare to think that within the German government there are several entities working on Marine Le Pen’s election. Financial markets are already thinking hard about Le Pen’s election, so there is no reason that they should not be doing the same,” he said.
But while the Front assumes Berlin would cave in to French demands, many across the Rhine are not so sure. Klaus Buchner, an MEP and member of the German Green party, said the opposite was true: Berlin would likely to fight France to save the EU. “In the unlikely case that Marine Le Pen wins the French presidency,” he wrote in an email, “I would imagine that the vast majority of EU member states, certainly including Germany, would strongly resist her demands and not cooperate with her.”
Outrage over her election could boil for weeks and escalate; riots could spread to several cities with increasing violence, according to a contingency plan drawn up by a left-wing police union.
A senior French official echoed Buchner. “I’m not sure we would actually be in such a position of strength,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Other countries might decide among themselves that they want to keep the euro, and we would become a black hole in the middle. Germany could very well go about assembling a coalition of pro-euro states, taking advantage of the fact that France would be under financial attack and looking weak.”
Even so, there is no denying that Germany would end up more isolated without France as its natural partner. Sophia Besch, a country expert at the Centre for European Reform, said that if Le Pen won, Germany “would be running out of options a bit. You can’t stress strongly enough how much [Germany] depends on France… They need a France that is seen in the rest of Europe as standing up to Germany.”
Berlin bites back
During the negotiations, which could last for more than a year, political analysts suggested that the most likely scenario would be a Brexit-style standoff between France and a pro-EU coalition of countries. Until Le Pen tabled Article 50, triggering its official divorce (assuming she won the referendum), Germany would probably play the clock, hand out as few concessions as possible and take measures to insulate the rest of the eurozone from financial attacks against France.
Indeed, as Le Pen pursues an exit from the EU, the situation at home would be unlikely to remain stable. Outrage over her election could boil for weeks and escalate; riots could spread to several cities with increasing violence, according to a contingency plan drawn up by a left-wing police union. Meanwhile, market attacks against French companies and government debt would gather momentum, exacerbated by complications linked to the closing of borders, triggering a banking crisis that could quickly become acute.
“What this immediately makes you think is that we would have to restrict capital flows and access to banks,” said the senior French official. “There would be a very serious problem with the circulation of capital, and that would lead to the development of a parallel economy, the detachment of the Bank of France from the euro system, and, finally, a brutal transition toward a coupon system.”
Make or break
In the midst of such spiraling headaches, Le Pen would take on the defining challenge of her early presidency: attempting to win a majority in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. Normally, the winner of the presidential election is all but guaranteed to obtain a parliamentary majority, as dispirited supporters of the losing camp stay at home. And Le Pen’s win would almost certainly provide her with fierce momentum in the polls.
But several members of the Socialist Party and the conservative Les Républicains said that things would play out differently. Far from being discouraged by her victory, said one MP, conservatives would use the alarm it generates to grab control of parliament and clip her wings for the rest of her term.
“The Républicains have zero interest in rolling over for Le Pen in the legislative elections,” said Philippe Juvin, an MEP who supports former prime minister François Fillon in the campaign. “Even after a defeat in the presidential election, there is a good chance that the party will perform well in the legislative vote thanks to our deep implantation across the country, which is unmatched by the National Front.”
Without a majority, Le Pen would become a lame duck president subjected to a prime minister who could block her reforms and referendums.
“Indeed, there is a very strong possibility of cohabitation,” he added, referring to a situation where the prime minister and government belong to one party and the president to another. Juvin conceded that a few individual MPs who have already signaled their proximity to the National Front might jump ship. But on the whole, he said that Le Pen was unlikely to win “more than 80 or 100 seats” — a remarkable performance considering the party previously had 2 MPs but still well short of the 289 she would need for a majority.
Without a majority, Le Pen would become a lame duck president subjected to a prime minister who could block her reforms and referendums. But she has anticipated this prospect and planned accordingly. Immediately after her Brussels trip, Le Pen wants to hold a referendum to revise the constitution, which would replace the current system of voting in parliament with proportional representation along the lines of what exists in Belgium or Sweden — giving her significantly more latitude to rule with perhaps one or two minor coalition partners.
However, holding such a referendum would itself face a huge, possibly insurmountable, challenge. According to Pascal Jan, a law professor at the Sciences Po Institute of political science in Bordeaux, Le Pen has two legal options for holding a referendum on the constitution: Article 89 and Article 11. The first requires a three-fifths majority in parliament — a non-starter before legislative elections. The second, which pertains to “the organization of public powers,” could be done “upon a proposal from the government.”
Article 11 is clearly Le Pen’s preferred avenue. She might seek to hold it as soon as possible, preferably before the legislative vote. Yet, said Jan, this too would prove nearly impossible, for two reasons: First, if the prime minister is still the Socialist holdover, he could simply refuse to propose the referendum (the motion must be submitted by the government); and second, the council of state, a constitutional court, would have to approve the referendum, and it could delay its verdict until after the legislative vote, defanging the effort.
Rule by decree
The result of the legislative election would define the first year of Le Pen’s presidency — determining whether she would rule or be condemned to kibitzing the government while signing executive decrees.
On the night of the election, she would watch from the presidential palace, where she might or might not be living with her longtime partner Louis Aliot and her three children from a previous marriage (the children are aged 18, 18 and 19). Le Pen likes to be surrounded with senior lieutenants from her party, people like Steeve Briois, mayor of Hénin-Beaumont in northern France, a longtime ally. Ascension to the presidency would be unlikely to change her custom of surrounding herself with faithful, longtime allies.
Pollsters have yet to carry out surveys on voting intentions for the legislative elections. But according to analysts, in the event of a Le Pen victory, the most likely scenario is one where the National Front comes in third — after the Républicains and the Socialists. Like Presidents François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac before her, Le Pen would have no choice but to accept a prime minister put forward by the ruling majority.
In a best-case scenario for Le Pen, elections would see social democrats opposed to austerity elected in Germany and the Euroskeptic 5Star movement take power in Italy.
In this case, the name is anyone’s guess. Conservative candidate François Fillon, having already served under Nicolas Sarkozy for five years, might be reluctant to do so for another five. The same goes for the erstwhile candidate and former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, who has signaled he was only interested in the presidency. The focus would turn to rising figures such as François Baroin, a Sarkozy ally and former finance minister who was previously tapped to act as the head of government under Fillon, had he been elected.
Le Pen would have, at this point, lost the battle but not the war. While waiting for a chance to dissolve parliament and make another attempt at forming a majority, she would rule via executive decree or presidential ordonnance. Such measures could be used to ram through more campaign pledges, like banning the hanging of EU flags from all public buildings and the wearing of Islamic veils in public. But decrees would be open to legal challenges from lower courts. Le Pen would spend much of her first 100 days locked in legal disputes, imposing executive will whenever possible.
As a result, she might seek to take advantage of her relatively free hand on the international front. She could attend conferences hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin or host sympathetic foreign populist leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Paris while kicking off a debate about the euro at home.
Moving the needle
Currently, a clear majority of the French support remaining in the EU and preserving the euro. But senior National Front officials believe that, once in power, Le Pen will be able to move the needle.
“For the time being, most French people are against leaving the eurozone, but there has been no national debate on the question,” said Messiha. “There has been a sort of strategy of terror, based on the Brexit model … But [in the U.K.] people had their eyes opened by the debate on Europe, and they decided to reject it massively.”
As she worked to drum up support, Le Pen could be expected to use tensions and standoffs with other European leaders on France’s EU demands to feed discussion on the euro at home. Unable to conduct policy, she would point to German or British “intransigence” to argue for total French sovereignty, all the while masking her limited powers at home.
Aides said that Le Pen expected robust discussion on the euro to influence the outcome of elections in Germany and Italy, scheduled for September this year and, at the latest, May of next year, respectively. In a best-case scenario for Le Pen, elections would see social democrats opposed to austerity elected in Germany and the Euroskeptic 5Star Movement take power in Italy.
With immigration suspended, a divisive debate on the euro raging and Europe split, Le Pen might feel that she has the clout to roll the dice again. She could, sometime in early 2018, seek to dissolve parliament and try again to obtain a ruling majority.
Or she could reach for the legal nuclear option. Article 16 of the constitution allows the president to take full control, if the nation’s “independence, territorial integrity or international engagements” are under threat. A major terrorist attack or a full-blown financial crisis preventing the government from borrowing on international markets could meet that criteria. And so what if Le Pen brought them on herself?