A new Yalta and the revival of Europe

Roger Cohen writes: In the end the French election turned on the most unlikely of subjects: Europe. Yes, the ugly European duckling of 2016 politics — rejected by Britain, mocked by President Trump — ushered Emmanuel Macron into the Élysée Palace as France’s youngest president.

Macron, throughout his campaign, was strong in his support of the European Union and its shared currency, the euro. That was risky; identification with the European Union hardly seemed a winning ticket. But it was precisely on the euro and the union that Marine Le Pen, the rightist candidate of the National Front, committed public political suicide.

In the final TV debate, days before this month’s vote, she babbled and blundered for minutes on end about Europe and its currency. It was, as Macron put it, “du n’importe quoi” — roughly meaningless garbage. And it was garbage that touched the French in a very sensitive area: their pocketbooks.

The French, unlike Americans, don’t talk about money but they think about it as much as anyone else.

Le Pen confused the euro and the ECU (a basket of European currencies once used as a unit of account); she seemed to think Britain had been in the euro and made the wild claim that Brexit had sent the British economy skyrocketing; she blabbered about the coexistence of a restored franc for French people and a euro for big companies; she appeared to decree that other nations would leave the euro at the same time as her France. She accused Macron of “submission to European federalism.”

The retort was swift. It was also devastating because the French, it turns out, are attached to the euro. Macron said the value of people’s savings would plunge 20 to 30 percent the day after a return to the franc. He asked how anyone from the producer of Cantal cheese to Airbus — small or large enterprises fully integrated in the European economy — would function once compelled to do their foreign transactions in euros and pay their employees’ salaries in francs. He predicted the return of capital controls as people rushed to get money out of the country.

Le Pen gaped at him, laughed inappropriately, fired increasingly wild and unrelated salvos, and generally seemed on the verge of total meltdown. It was the end. Europe had killed her. For any Europhile, and I proudly wear that badge, it was the sweetest of moments after a rough passage. [Continue reading…]

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