By Bola A. Akinterinwa
The Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) was done on March 25, 1957 in Rome, Italy as a follow-up to the 1955 Italian City of Messina (Sicily) Conference. The conference, held from 1st to 3rd June, 1955, was attended by the Foreign Ministers of the Six Member States of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The cardinal objective of the conference was to nominate a member of the High Authority of the ECSC, as well as appoint a new president and vice president for the period expiring on 10 February 1957. In this regard, Mr. René Mayer was appointed the president of the High Authority to replace Mr. Jean Monnet.
Before the conference, various efforts had been made to kick start European integration after World War II, beginning with the 1951 ECSC. In an attempt to remove the political and military suspicions at the level of France and Germany in particular, the ideas of a Common Defence Force and European Defence Community were suggested as alternatives to national armies of the six original Member States of the ECSC. However, these plans were aborted in August in 1954, following the refusal of France to ratify the plans as agreed to by others. It was this French position that led the ECSC to redirect its attention more to economic questions.
It considered the pursuit of a Customs Union which was a major issue for discussion at the 1955 Messina Conference. Issues dealing with political and military matters were deemphasized to the advantage of economic cooperation and development. This largely informed the new name, ‘Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community.’ More interestingly, however, political and military cooperation would later, au fur et a mesure, be introduced, meaning that the initial French refusal was meant to first underscore the economic and the political later. For instance, the word ‘economic’ was removed from the name following the 1992 Maastritch Treaty. In other words, it was no longer EEC but EC (European Community), implying that emphasis should no longer be on the pursuit of economic interests alone. By further implications, non-economic matters could henceforth legally be accommodated.
Again, following the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, the word ‘community’ was replaced with ‘union.’ In fact, the Lisbon Treaty is entitled ‘Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union,’ meaning that both the military, the political, the cultural, etc, have now become issues of common interest, and therefore going beyond the restricted interests of the original EEC members: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.
In this regard, the 1957 Treaty was not only the crescendo of efforts undertaken since 1951, especially by Jean Monnet of France and Robert Schuman of Germany, both of whom were Foreign Ministers, but also the foundation stone of the European Union of today. While the main rationale for the establishment of the community was economic integration at the initial stage, the ultimate objective of the European integration efforts as at today is a union that can think together, plan together, act together, defend together, and be another major power centre in global politics.
Explained differently, it was strongly believed that unity was strength, regional integration was a good and fast way of boosting economic development, regional solidarity and unity of purpose. This was the thinking behind the pursuit of a Single Market for good, capital, labour and service. This was why a Common Agricultural Policy, a Common Transport Policy and an European Social Fund were not only contemplated but also why an European Commission was specifically established.
But true enough, the goodness in the quest for European integration as from 1951, the beauty of the March 25 1957 Rome Treaty which entered into force on January 1, 1958, and the hope for better days to come following the Maastritch and Lisbon treaties have not only been undermined by Brexit but are now more seriously threatened by a potential Frexit in the event Marine Le Pen is elected the President of France.
There is every reason to believe that she could be elected the first female President of France under the Fifth Republic. The unexpected election of Mr. Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States is exactly the same way the French electorate is disturbingly looking at the chances of Marine in the first round of the election on April 23rd and second round on May 7, 2017.
Marine Le Pen as French President
The major features of contemporary international relations are basically the rise in nationalism, protectionism, and quest for self-determination. Contemporary international relations are increasingly predicated on the conflict between globalisation, multilateralism and supranational politics, on the one hand, and quests for self-determination and return to national protectionism, on the other. Countries which voluntarily surrender part of their national sovereignty to a supranational authority are reviewing their positions. Bad governance is no longer held responsible for non-development. It is the global environmental conditionings that are increasingly now held responsible. The love for one’s country has also become a special magnet for attracting only the original or the unpolluted nationals of a country. This is the context in which Marine Le Pen is currently contesting for the French presidency.
Marine is a lawyer by training and mother of three. She is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of Front National (National Front) which is anti-Jews, anti-immigration, anti-European supranational authority, etc. Even though the National Front started with very low percentage of votes in many elections in the past, the truth as at today, is that there has been sharp increase from about 5% in the early years of the Front National in the 1980s, to about 19% in the following decades under Jean-Marie Le Pen.
In 2011, Marine took over the leadership of the National Front from her father. Mainly as a result of the anti-semitism of her father and to allow for more support, her father’s membership of the National Front was withdrawn. As noted by Vivienne Walt in her report (“The Power of Le Pen: Win or Lose, France’s populist has already shaken up her country,” Time, March 27, 2017, Vol. 189, No. 11, 2017, p. 33), Marine has to ‘distance herself on the basis of advice ‘from her father Jean-Marie, whose virulently anti-semitic and homophobic remarks in the past made him toxic to most voters. She expelled her father and cast herself as the common person’s champion. Le Pen’s campaign posters now read simply “Marine 2017,” with no reference to her last name.’
The expulsion of her father may not be a big deal and may not even help the matter in light of the more disturbing likely foreign policy to be adopted by Marine Le Pen. Without doubt, France currently has an unemployment rate of about 10%. France is still one of the main targets of deadly terrorist attacks. Illegal immigration in France is another problem. Marine considers these problems and therefore defined her foreign policy along these lines.
First, France wants the return of French Franc. She is against the supremacy of the Euro. Marine has it that the EU has stolen national sovereignty and that the introduction of euro currency is nothing more than ‘a knife in the ribs of nations,’ thus ruining the economies. As explained by Nona Mayer, an expert on the National Front, ‘at the heart of the political party of Marine Le Pen… there is something which is not really compatible with the values of democracy. That’s national preference.’
More important, Mayer has said that ‘it’s the idea that one must keep housing, social benefits, family stipends, employment of the French… The enemy is the other. The other is the immigrant and the immigrant is Islam.’ In this regard, the thrust of her campaign is ‘France first,’ which was also the campaign slogan her father adopted in 1985. It can be rightly argued that Donald Trump might have been inspired by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s campaign strategy, for him to have also adopted the style for his own campaigns.
Secondly, on the issue of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, Marine considers that ‘terrorism is a pistol in the hand of the guilty’ and that terrorism can only be defeated by collective resolve and alliance. Consequently, Marine wants ‘an alliance to emerge between France, the United States and Russia to fight Islamic fundamentalism because it is a gigantic danger weighing on our democracies’ (vide her speech at the meeting with the Anglo-American Press Association held last week).
This type of alliance is important in two ways. It is different from the type of alliance sought by former French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who wanted a dialogue between the rich and poor countries in 1974. The focus was on energy. When the dialogue, which lasted until 1977, failed, Giscard d’Estaing proposed again on January 15, 1979 a sort of ‘trilogue’ on wider issues: economic, political, cultural matters and concrete projects, in which Europe was to provide the technology, the Arabs were to provide the money required for the development of African resources. As explained by Henri Jean-Baptiste, the political aspect of the trilogue was to enable France come up with a ‘Charter for security through development (Africa Economic Digest (London), vol. 1, no.10, July 18, 1980, p.8).
Apart from this, there is nothing to suggest that Marine Le Pen understands well the implications of her offer of triple alliance. Russia’s foreign policy is seeking the dismantlement of the powerful European Union, not only to get Europe weakened but also to pave the way for Russia to emerge as a new superpower. Russia is much troubled by European Union’s unending sanctions and intrusions in Russia’s zones of influence. It is for the purposes of a weakened Europe that Russia is much delighted in Brexit. If Brexit will be immediately followed by a Frexit, it can only simply mean that Russia is doing pretty well in its foreign policy calculations.
Consequently, an alliance among France, the United States and Russia cannot but be a marriage of convenience but whose future is, at best, bleak. The United States under Donald Trump is talking about ‘America First’ and making ‘America Great Again.’ In the event of election of Marine Le Pen, the same story will be told: ‘France First.’ Marine will surely be talking about ‘la grandeur de la France‘ (the greatness of France) which was a popular theme in national politics following World War II.
The issue of Marine Le Pen as a special patriot and defender of the father land is quite interesting too. In her words: ‘I am intensely, proudly, loyally and resolutely French… For as long as I can remember, I have always felt a visceral, passionate attachment to our country and its history. I love France. I love this old-age nation which cannot be subdued with all my heart and my soul and its spontaneous and tenacious people. I am a woman and, as such, I experience the ever increasing restrictions on liberty in our country through the development of Islamic fundamentalism like an act of violence.’
In this regard, Marine sees massive migration, particularly from the perspective of the Maghrebin region of Africa, as supplanting French civilisation and as the root causes of France’s woes. This, she said, should not be so or allowed anymore. However she claims not to have qualms with people of Islamic faith but only wants adherents of radical political ideas in the guise of religion to be tried and expelled before they are able to ‘install Sharia or Islamic law in France.’.
And perhaps most interestingly, Marine said she suffers ‘insults to France as if they were addressed to me directly. Whether it’s a question of insecurity and violence, or the poverty which affects too many of our countrymen, the suffering of the French people touches me personally.’ This is how Marine has been presenting herself for public support for her candidature. To a great extent today, it is being speculated that Marine Le Pen may be the next French president, especially in light of the many problems already facing the other strong competitors.
For instance, it should be remembered that the National Front had more seats than any political party at the 2014 European parliamentary elections. This feat has to be understood within the context of anti-EU stand of the National Front. Again, of the five presidential candidates (Benoit Hamon of the Socialist party; François Fillon of the Republican party; Marine Le Pen of the National Party; Emmanuel Frédéric Macron of the En Marche (On the Move party); and Emmanuel Jean-Michel), opinion polls have pointed to Marine Le Pen and François Fillon as likely two finalists in the second round of election.
However, the French National Financial Office is currently investigating Mr. Fillon and his British born wife, Penelope, to determine whether the couple had established false documents to justify the wages paid to Penelope. In fact, in March 2017, Mr Fillon was accused of paying his wife and children hundreds of thousands of Euros (Le Canard Enchainé, a French satirical, puts the amount at 500,000 Euros) from the public payroll for little or no work.’ Although Mr. Fillon has denied the allegations and has refused to step down, his popularity ranking has been adversely affected, thus giving more room for popular support for Marine Le Pen. Thus, if Marine Le Pen becomes the next president of France, how will Africa be affected, especially in terms of regional integration and quests for national self-determination?
Implication for Regional Integration
Marine Le Pen may be too difficult and fragile for African leaders to handle because the content of her ‘France First’ policy still remains ambiguous. The grandeur of France was sustained largely by the French or Francophone Community for which Articles 131-136 of the 1957 Rome Treaty were provided. The articles provided for the associate membership of the EEC. The French decided to face reality of European politics and was compelled to deemphasise the heaven burden of French speakingness. The French Community, and especially the Francophone-African Summit, as instruments of France’s foreign policy are still there. However, their impacts are no longer as serious as they used to be. With the possible election of Le Pen, will there be a return to re-emphasis on the French Community within the framework of ‘France First’?
The European Union has been struggling tooth and nail to get the whole ECOWAS accept the Economic Partnership Agreement which is specifically targeted at Nigeria. All the Member States of the ECOWAS have ratified the agreement with the exception of Nigeria and The Gambia. As a result, the EPA agreement is still gathering dust in the drawers but the EU is not happy about this development. With Marine Le Pen as president of France, with her hostility to the European Union, the EPA agreement can be considered as dying of natural death. Will France and Nigeria strike a deal of convenience?
It is also useful not to forget here that France and Germany are the two chief drivers of the EEC, EC and the EU, and the reason may not be far-fetched: effect of World War I and II, particularly on France. Germany precipitated the First and Second World Wars. In an attempt to remove fears and suspicions between and among European countries, especially at the level of Franco-German relations, European integration was contemplated as one of the antidotes. Specifically at the level of France and Germany, a quarterly summit of Franco-German leaders was established in 1963. Now, what will happen to the Franco-German summit? Can the European Union survive with a possible Frexit under Le Pen? In the event of a Frexit, can Germexit be ruled out?
At the level of African leaders, all the treaties and conventions on regional integration have been largely patterned after those of Europe. With the increasing complaints against the EU and the calls for self-determination, particularly in Nigeria, will the election of Marine Le Pen not become another source of inspiration for the self-determinists? The election of Donald Trump in the US has strengthened the pro-Biafra advocates. Will the pro-Biafran advocates not be further strengthened with Marine as president of France?
If the European Union is being threatened by many Europeans in various Member States, what really is the position of African leaders on Brexit and impending Frexit? If the original ECOWAS of sixteen members became fifteen with the withdrawal of Mauritania, is the ECOWAS Authority thinking about possible withdrawal in the foreseeable future? Whatever the answers to these questions, new emphasis is being placed on nationalism. The struggle for self-determination is on the increase and the extent to which the matter can be addressed peacefully or forcefully is now a matter of debate. Government therefore needs to begin to investigate Le Pen’s policies with greater attention as France is Nigeria’s immediate neighbour by geo-political propinquity. This is necessary because the ECOWAS without Nigeria will be hollow. Nigeria should therefore not be cut unawares.