Nicholas Vinocur writes: 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.)
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 far-fetched, 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. [Continue reading…]