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Macron or Le Pen: why it matters for France, the EU and the West

On April 24, the French will decide whether to elect President Emmanuel Macron (pro-business centrist) or to end decades of mainstream consensus and elect Marine Le Pen.

These are their major issues.

– THE ECONOMY

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LE PEN: A far-right heiress transformed the former National Front into a protectionist, big-spending party. Her father’s free-market, small government party was transformed by her daughter.

She proposes to establish a “Buy French” policy for public tenders. This will reduce the minimum retirement age from 20 to 60 for people who began work before then, eliminate income tax for those under 30, and reduce VAT on energy to 5.5% instead of 20%.

Over 5 years, she would spend 2 billion euros ($2.18 trillion) on raising salaries of hospital workers and recruiting 10,000 more. Over 5 years, teachers’ salaries will rise by 15%

Gilles Ivaldi is a political scientist at Sciences-Po. She says that her party’s economic program is more left-leaning than it has been in decades.

MACRON – The French leader will double down on the supply-side reforms he implemented in his first mandate. His main plank is an increase in the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65.

Macron also promises to condition some welfare benefits on the completion of 15-20 hours training, which is similar to policies in Britain or the United States.

The strength of the economy would link unemployment insurance, which currently covers workers for up to two-thirds of their salaries for two years, if they lose their job.

He has promised that benefits will be automatic for all who are eligible, rather than requiring recipients to apply.

EUROPE:

LE PEN – Although Le Pen has renounced her earlier plans to exit the euro and to pay France’s debt with newly created francss, she has nevertheless pledged to reduce contributions to the European Union coffers. This would place Paris in direct conflict with the European Commission, and other EU members.

In a challenge to the EU’s top court she insists that French law should prevail over EU laws. She also stated that she would like to eventually replace the EU by a “Europea of nations”, but she has yet to define what that would look.

Le Pen also plans to hire thousands of additional customs agents to inspect goods entering France from EU countries. This is purportedly in an effort to combat fraud. Analysts believe that this would weaken the single market.

MACRON – The ardent Europhile will continue to push for Europe’s “strategic independence” in defense, technology, energy, and reduce its dependence on other countries.

Macron’s efforts to reorient the EU toward a more protective stance over the past five year have seen him block free-trade agreements with Mercosur and create a mechanism that intensifies scrutiny of takeovers by outsiders of strategic EU businesses.

Macron will likely push for greater regulation of U.S. tech companies and has stated that he wants to create an “European metaverse” in order to rival Facebook’s.

– THE WESTERN ALLIANCE:

LE PEN – Le Pen is attempting to force France to withdraw from the transatlantic military alliance NATO’s combined command. This would be a challenge for the West’s post-1945 security architecture.

Opponents claim she is too close to Moscow. In 2014, her party was granted a loan by a Russian bank. She was also hosted at the Kremlin by Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly before the 2017 election.

Although she condemned Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, she believes that Moscow could become an ally once again after the war.

She called herself a “Gaullist”, referring to wartime leader Charles de Gaulle. She stated that she would pursue a foreign strategy at the same distance as Washington and Moscow.

When asked if she had any message for France’s traditional allies, Britain, and the United States she replied: “Drop your preconceived ideas about me.”

MACRON – Although Macron ruffled feathers in the trans-Atlantic alliance, notably in east Europe and Germany in 2019 when he called NATO “brain dead”, he later stated that the Russian invasion in Ukraine had “jolted it to life”.

However, he would still like to see Europeans become less dependent upon the U.S. for their security.

Macron has encouraged the EU to place more emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region and China’s growing influence in the region. After Australia abandoned a huge submarine deal with France, Macron clashed with Washington and London.

He was unsure whether he would try to work with the U.S.-UK and Australia security alliance (dubbed AUKUS) against China or persuade EU to follow its own independent policy toward Beijing.

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