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Results of French presidential elections will shape Ukraine’s future in Europe

Results of French presidential elections will shape Ukraine’s future in Europe
Alexander Query, UATV journalist: All eyes are on France ahead of the presidential election. Between judiciary problems and tensions in civil society, it has been a chaotic campaign, and it’s not over yet. This election which will define French domestic and international politics for at least the next 5 years. What will be the consequences of this election? What are the candidates willing to change, or not? And what does it mean for Ukraine?

Joining me via Skype to discuss the French elections and the future of Europe is Olivier Costa, a researcher at CNRS, head of studies at the College of Europe at Bruges and specialist on the European Union.

So the first question is let’s have a quick recap of all the big candidates positioned towards Europe. We know, for example, that Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon are strongly against Europe. Can you tell us more about it?

Let’s say we have five main candidates.

First, we have an extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who is against Europe, and basically, she wants to quit the European Union because she’s talking a lot about sovereignty.

Then we have François Fillon, he is the right-wing candidate. He is pro-European, but at the same time, he’s in favor of a quite intergovernmental Europe, maybe in the style of Charles de Gaulle.

Then we have Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is a former communist candidate, who is quite critical towards the European Union, who would like to reshuffle the whole European thing, and basically, this is not possible, this would mean leaving the European Union.

We have also Emmanuel Macron, he is a centrist candidate, and he’s the only one to be really pro-European.

And then we have the socialist candidate, but he has no chance to win and he is pro-European, but a bit critical as well with the European Union.

There is this paradox. Marine Le Pen is willing to have a strong France, let’s put it that way. But wouldn’t it make France weaker to go out of Europe now?

For France, it would be a total nightmare to organize leaving the European Union.
Clearly, people who are calling for leaving the European Union are populists, and they’re promoting some things that will not work. It would be a catastrophe from the economic standpoint, and France wouldn’t get back its sovereignty. I think the situation is different from the United Kingdom. I mean, the consequences would be negative for the United Kingdom, but to some extent, it can make sense, because the United Kingdom is an island and the United Kingdom was not involved in all EU policies. But for France, it would be a total nightmare to organize leaving the European Union.

Would you say that Frexit, as you say it, would mean the end of Europe as we know it?

Oh yeah, for sure, because France is one of the founding countries of the European Union. It is very central also from a geographic standpoint. And having the UK and then France leaving the European Union would really deprive the European Union of its sense. So it wouldn’t be the end of European integration, but it would be the end of the European Union as it is. And the system would certainly need to be totally restructured.

Coming to relationships between Europe and other countries, there is a sort of a constant which is Vladimir Putin and Russia’s funds are often behind eurosceptic politics, thinking about the National Front. What would Putin win from a disintegrated Europe?

USSR was fundamentally against European integration. Putin is in that tradition.
We need to go back in history and see that the USSR was fundamentally against European integration since the very beginning and that European integration was also meant, in some way, to protect European countries against the USSR. And I think that Vladimir Putin is in that tradition, thinking that the European bloc is not good for him. Especially to countries which are between the USSR and Europe, in particular, the situation in Ukraine. So, for Vladimir Putin, the dismantling of the European Union would be a very good thing, because individually the European countries are very weak. And collectively they are capable of working in a global system.

You spoke about Ukraine. It’s a very good example for this – Euromaidan. It began with the will of Ukraine to go closer to Europe. Now, Europe voted for a visa waiver for Ukrainian citizens. If there’s a Frexit, will this decision be canceled? Will the decision to integrate Ukraine to come into Europe be slowed down?

Oh, yes, certainly. I think, if there is a Frexit, concretely, I don’t know what would be the immediate consequences on the European Union, but it would really make a stop to any project of European integration, it would freeze the negotiations of any kind, it would freeze the policies, and even if there is no Frexit, even if we only have a candidate who is strongly eurosceptic guy, or lady elected in France, one of the first thing that person would ask would be to limit the freedom of circulation of people inside the E.U. because the populist discourse is very much directed against that idea of free movements of people, and obviously, also with people that are currently outside the European Union.

It’s a bit of a catastrophic statement, but do you think but that those closing borders would basically lead to a sort of a war?

People are leaving with the idea that at least in the European Union peace is there forever, which is not true.
I think so because people are leaving with the idea that at least in the European Union peace is there forever, which is not true. And I think that if we start again with the disintegration of the European Union, it would lead very quickly to a situation of tension, a conflict between countries, economic sanctions and other sanctions and the other way around. I don’t think that it would lead to a war, but it could lead to a war because of all kinds of tension, and especially if we have a growing number of populist leaders inside European countries, who are really ready just to attract the attention of people to something else and to prepare for war, just to distract citizens from other domestic matters.

One of the critics of modern Europe is that it’s too liberal. Do you think a political alliance is possible without economic partnership or liberalism?

Oh yes, it’s possible. People are criticizing the European Union because it’s too liberal, but it’s true that European integration was based first on the integration of the markets. This is the choice that was made. This was the only available choice because otherwise, the political integration was not possible. And today a lot of people are complaining, saying that it’s too liberal, but this can be fixed. It just depends on how people vote and currently in the European Union mostly people are voting for right-wing parties. So it’s quite logical that that liberal trend continues. But once people would vote for parties that are more on the left this can be changed and fixed and some decision can be taken in order to limit the economic liberalism of European integration.

There has been inside the European Council, the European Parliament, tensions between especially Poland or eastern countries and western countries, let’s put it that way. And western countries weren’t that much for multi-speed as eastern countries were more asking for multi-speed Europe. Do you think multi-speed Europe is possible to create today?

The only solution for the European Union to continue to move forward is to enter a more formalized multi-speed Europe.
I think that multi-speed Europe already exists to some extent. As you know, some policies like the euro, all the European citizenship, some other part of social policies already multispeed Europe. And I really think that the only solution for the European Union to continue to move forward is to enter a more formalized multi-speed Europe. Then it creates tension between east and west because basically western countries are ready to go for multi-speed Europe, to go for deeper integration, whereas eastern countries are still struggling to apply the European rule that exists, because it has been such a challenge for those countries to adopt to European norms when they entered in 2004 and 2007.

And actually, I’m speaking here about Ukraine, is this kind of problem, because they have to adapt to European standard, especially for energy, towards the energy crisis with Russia. It might be an obstacle for those in Ukraine who believe that Europe might not save them from Russia. What do you say to them, what do you say to those people who are sometimes tempted to go back to the old model?

I think that currently, European Union is not capable of developing very well-organized foreign policy when the situation is not clear internally. I think the relationships between the 28 member states today are very complex and I think that the priority for them is to try to find common ground on internal policies. Then I would say that external policy really comes second to them. And I would say that currently, the situation in Ukraine is not central in the discussion between the 28. And it’s very much a concern for the countries in the eastern part of Europe, for limited numbers of leaders, like President of the European Council Donald Tusk, but for many other national leaders, the question of Ukraine is not on a top priority of agenda, because they are struggling with so many other issues.

Ok, thank you. Just one last question. So to continue to grow, if it can grow, how Europe can be fixed?

I think it will depend very much on the result of couple of elections that are to come in the European Union – the French election, because the outcome will be very different if we have a pro-European president or an anti-European president or a more critical president towards European integration; depends very much on the result of German election in September; it depends also now on the result of the British election, because Theresa May has just called for anticipated election, so we see that we are really in a two-level game and that a future of European integration depends very much on the result of the next elections in France, United Kingdom, and Germany.

Thank you, Mr. Costa, for this interview, it was a pleasure to have you in the studio. That was Olivier Costa from France speaking about French election and the future of Europe. Thank you for watching the program. Stay tuned for the rest.

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