Le Pen Aides Met UBS, BlackRock, Barclays to Explain Euro ExitBy
National Front aides likened to Varoufakis by one analyst
Meetings show Le Pen victory seen as increasingly realistic
Top advisers to French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen have met with strategists and analysts from BlackRock Inc, Barclays Plc and UBS Group AG, among other firms to explain their economic program and plans to withdraw France from the euro.
While such meetings are common for campaign officials from mainstream parties in France and other European countries, this is the first time Le Pen’s National Front has been approached, the candidate’s chief economic adviser Bernard Monot and her business aide Mikael Sala said in interviews. In the last seven months, they have met with analysts from British and American financial institutions in Paris, Brussels and Strasbourg at the firms’ request.
The interest from financial markets underlines how seriously financial analysts take the possibility that Le Pen may win power in the euro zone’s second-largest economy. Polls have shown her holding a lead in the first round of voting for more than a year, though all surveys predict that she will also lose the run-off ballot on May 7.
“These strategists see that Le Pen may be the next president of France and they are doing their due diligence,” Monot said. “They’re very much looking for a detailed account of our plans.”
Monot and Sala, who head Le Pen’s business advisory council Croissance Bleu Marine, said they also met or spoke with representatives from the Medley Advisors and CheckRisk consultancies. Monot added that he met with U.S. pension funds without naming them.
Barclays, UBS and Medley Advisors declined to comment. BlackRock and CheckRisk confirmed the contact. “A team of investment strategists from the BlackRock Investment Institute met with the economic teams of the main French presidential candidates to better understand their economic policy proposals,” BlackRock said in a statement.
Le Pen is making a “return to monetary sovereignty” a key plank of her policy platform as she seeks to replicate the populist victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. She wants to replace the euro with a basket of new national currencies, revoke central bank independence and create money to finance welfare and industrial strategy and repay debt.
“They come in with preconceptions,” Monot said. “They think we want to break everything up. But we tell them: we will honor France’s signature and commit to maintain the economic, monetary and financial stability of the country. When we tell them all that, they are reassured, they are even surprised,” he added.
The National Front officials said they haven’t met with any French financial institutions.
BlackRock’s chief macro strategist Rupert Harrison, a former aide to former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, met with Le Pen’s team at her Paris campaign headquarters. He made the meeting public in a Feb. 10 posting on Twitter that has been since been retracted.
“They’re very pragmatic and they came to us because we’re on the map and they want to make sure they understand our plans,” Sala, said of his meetings with BlackRock. “They can see that Le Pen is surrounded by people who have worked in business, who know what deal making is.”
For strategists and economists, a meeting with Le Pen’s people can be a unusual experience. One of them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the National Front officials have skills and analysis comparable to those of the U.K. Independence Party or that of Daniel Hannan, a member of the U.K. Conservative Party and an anti-EU campaigner. Another one, who also didn’t want to be identified because the meeting was private, said that the aides had economic and markets knowledge, but were highly ideological like former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Nick Bullman, head of Bath, England-based CheckRisk, which produces risk models and analysis for pension funds, central banks, insurance companies and funds, said he met Monot in Strasbourg in December.
“Our impressions of the FN were as follows: a much more sophisticated political machinery than we had imagined,” Bullman said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The FN’s views on the euro, whilst radical, are perhaps a reflection of the reality of where the euro must go to survive.”
Sala, who has lived in the U.S., said using his English-language skills made all the difference. “That way we avoided any ambiguity,” he said. But don’t tell Le Pen he used the language of Shakespeare. The party leader wants her staff to speak in French only.
— With assistance by Richard Partington, Stefania Spezzati, and Stephen Morris