The European project will face its next test on Sunday, as the people of France head to the polls to participate in the first round of the French presidential elections.
With only two days left to go until election day, polls continue to show left-wing candidate Emmanuel Macron virtually neck and neck with right-wing populist candidate Marine Le Pen, each polling around 23 to 25 percent.
“I believe the European Union has done a lot of harm to our country.”
Le Pen, an outspoken critic of the European Union and the policies of globalization and mass migration it peddles, has used her message to transform her party from one that sits on the fringes of French politics to one that’s a driving force at the very heart of the national conversation.
As the election approaches, the leader of the Front National has only hardened her populist, anti-EU immigration message.
“The European Union is imposing double trouble on us [with] the lack of physical borders with the irresponsible Schengen Treaty,” Le Pen told supporters at a rally on Wednesday.
“We got rid of our physical borders, and that turned our countries into train stations for all immigrants around the world. I will end Schengen and restore our national borders,” said Le Pen, who has also promised voters a referendum on France’s membership in the EU.
“Mass immigration is not an opportunity for France, it’s a tragedy for France,” Le Pen said. “The choice on Sunday is simple: It is a choice between a France that is rising again and a France that is sinking,” she said.
On Tuesday, Le Pen refused to be interviewed in front of the EU flag during a television interview. “I want to be the president of the French Republic, I don’t want to be European Commission president,” she said. “I believe the European Union has done a lot of harm to our country,” Le Pen said.
More troubling for the EU itself is that the popularity of Le Pen’s anti-EU message is not confined solely to the populist right.
In the past few weeks, what was effectively a two-horse race between Macron and Le Pen, with center-right moderate Francois Fillon trailing comfortably in third place, has become a four-person contest as far-leftist, anti-EU candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon received a surprising surge of support.
The radical left-wing populist is polling at an average of 18.5 percent, according to Bloomberg, nipping at the heels of Fillon, who sits on an average of 19.5 percent support.
EU loyalists are clearly worried about the anti-EU sentiment in France. Last week, German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged the French people not to vote for anti-EU candidates.
“Do not listen to the siren songs of those who promise you a great French future after getting rid of all that is part of France today, namely its role as a guarantor of European stability and a pillar of the European Union,” he said.
But with both Le Pen and Mélenchon positioned to reach the runoff and find themselves in the second round of voting, it seems the French aren’t listening to voices like Steinmeier’s.