For all the talk about the threat of the far right, left of centre politicians, who have arguably been less than supportive of the UK’s post-Brexit challenges, have emerged as front runners in the forthcoming German and French elections.
Listen to some members of the UK press and you could be forgiven for thinking that Martin Schultz, the man who until very recently was the President of the European Parliament, is a threat to the UK,post-Brexit. After-all, he has talked about the hardest ‘Brexit possible’ and ‘mutual humiliation’ of Britain. He may not be quite as extreme as the more extreme pro-Brexit press may have you believe. But he is very pro the EU, and very much one of those EU politicians who worries about the threat posed to the region by Presidents Trump and Putin. If opinion polls are to be believed – and it seems they rarely can be – it will be he, and not Angela Merkel, who will be the next German Chancellor.
Emmanuel Macron, the man who has emerged as the favourite to be the next French president, spoke vociferously before the UK’s EU referendum.
“If the UK wants a commercial access treaty to the European market, the British must contribute to the European budget like the Norwegians and the Swiss do. If London doesn’t want that, then it must be a total exit,” he said. And he has talked about the need to avoid the contamination of Brexit.
On another occasion, he said: “Leaving the EU would mean the ‘Guernseyfication’ of the UK, which would then be a little country on the world scale. It would isolate itself and become a trading post and arbitration place at Europe’s border.”
The tragedy of Brexit is that the UK’s best short-term interests may be served if the far right secure victory in Germany – which is not very likely – and France, which remains a distinct possibility.
But maybe the victory of Donald Trump has done Marine Le Pen no favours, galvanising people in Euope, turning politically apathetic voters into concerned citizens.
We won’t know for sure until the elections happen – that’s spring in France, late summer early Autumn in Germany – but the rise of Trump may have engendered a kind of Churchillian spirit in Europe.
In an article he penned for the LSE, Schultz even referred to Churchill when making the case for an increased role for the EU. He said: “The fundamental point was already captured perfectly by Winston Churchill seventy years ago, in Zurich: if the EU gets a competence in a given area, it should also be given the necessary tools to achieve results. This is not about inter-governmentalism versus federalism – the EU is in neither category – it is about delivering effective policy and ensuring that citizens feel their voice counts.”
Talking about Brexit, he said: “It is clear to me that social inequality, stagnating wages and a middle class which felt threatened were the decisive factors in the result. The rural/urban divide was palpable. Free movement of persons was also plainly a factor, and I regret that the benefits of access to the Single Market were often drowned out in the debate.
“But to claim now that the vote is a clear popular mandate to sacrifice single market access on the altar of ‘migration’ is simply wrong.”
Martin Schultz is not anti-British, but he his pro EU. When he talked about the UK suffering the hardest Brexit, he was referring to a scenario in which MEPs were given no say over Brexit negotiations.
As for Macron, he was the French economy minister under Francois Hollande, until resigning to focus on his presidential bid. He is an independent socialist candidate, but since the official socialist representative Benoit Hamon is considered far left and unlikely to win, Marcon is far likelier to win the French left vote. Meanwhile, the centre right has committed an act of self-harm with the nomination of Francois Fillon, whose popularity has sunk over a scandal concerning alleged fake jobs for members of his family.
So, that leaves Macron as the favourite to scoop victory over the far right’s Marine Le Pen. As for Germany, recent opinion polls suggest that if there was an election now, Martin Schultz would win 50 per cent of the vote, versus 34 per cent for Angela Merkel, although his party the SPD still languishes behind Merkel’s CDU – although recently the SPD has been growing in popularity while the CDU has been losing popularity.
As things stand, the effect of Donald Trump seems to have been to draw Europe closer together, advancing the cause of politicians who are less sympathetic to the UK’s post-Brexit position.