By Daphn Benoit, AFP
PARIS — The euro — and her fervent wish to withdraw from it — is a central theme of every stump speech by French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, topping her list of 144 election pledges. Le Pen calls the single European currency a “a knife that you stick in a country’s ribs to force it to do what its people don’t want to do.” The leader of the National Front (FN) blames the euro for driving up prices, hurting exports and adding to France’s already colossal trade deficit. She has pledged that, if elected, she will throw off the shackles of the common currency and restore France’s monetary sovereignty by resurrecting the franc. With all opinion polls showing her getting past the first round of the election on April 23, making the once-unthinkable prospect of a far-right presidency no longer completely implausible, economists and business leaders are worried. Although Le Pen, 48, currently looks set to lose the May 7 runoff, probably to independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, no one is being complacent. “No one knows what will happen,” said Jean-Lou Blachier of France’s Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, referring to Britain’s surprise vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s shock election as U.S. president.
Le Pen argues that bringing back the franc would help retool France’s ailing industrial sector. She believes a devalued national currency would make exports cheaper, boosting job creation. Emboldened by Britain’s taboo-breaking Brexit vote, Le Pen also promises to hold a “Frexit” referendum, saying the EU “shuts us in, constrains us, bullies us.” “The European Union is going to die because people do not want it anymore,” she said on Sunday in Lille. “We are going to change Europe because the European idea has been undermined by these federalist gravediggers.” If elected, she would hold six months of talks with the EU on “retaking sovereignty” in terms of budget, territory, legislature and monetary policy after which she would call a referendum on leaving the EU — and would step down if the people chose to stay.