Le Pen's Euro Contortions Underline French Reluctance to Exit

  • Euro issue is ‘thorn in her side’ in appealing to voters
  • Macron holds strong lead with week to go before voting

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s attempt to offer reassurances on her euro exit policy shows how voter attachment to the single currency represents one of her most difficult electoral hurdles.

With a week to go in the campaign, Le Pen appeared to step back from her single most distinct policy, saying Saturday that there was no rush on a euro exit. Then Sunday, in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper, she said “the euro is dead” and that she still wants to have two currencies -- one for daily use by the population and one for international trade.

In fact, if anything has changed, it’s timing. National Front lawmaker Marion Marechal-Le Pen said that her aunt would wait until after Italian elections next year before pulling France out of the euro.

“The only thing that’s changed is the timetable,” Bernard Monot, one of Le Pen’s top economic advisers, said in an interview. “The goal is to recover competitiveness of about 20 percent between France and Germany that was stolen when the euro was created.”

After months of campaigning, Le Pen and pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron became the finalists in France’s presidential race last week. Voters face a choice between them on May 7 to replace Francois Hollande as head of state.

Macron Leads

Though Macron has consistently led in the polls, his margin has slipped in recent days as Le Pen pulls out all the stops to secure the first-ever presidential election victory of the far-right party built up by her father since 1972. Macron, a 39-year-old former economy minister, currently has the support of 59.5 percent of voters, compared with 40.5 percent percent for Le Pen, according to Bloomberg’s composite of French polls.

For Le Pen, who has sought to distance the National Front from its roots in racism and Holocaust denial, opposition to the euro may effectively create a glass ceiling. Polls regularly show that more than 70 percent of the population want to retain the currency.

“The euro is a real thorn in her side,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a researcher with the Fondation Jean Jaures. “It’s what keeps a lot of traditional right-wing and older voters from backing her.”

Macron’s allies and officials sought to drive home the danger of an anti-European Union approach in radio and television interviews Sunday.

“She wants to demolish the euro,” Pau Mayor Francois Bayrou said on RTL radio. “No secondary questions should distract us from that.”

The late attempt to reassure voters on the policy is a political sham, he said. “Her entire program rests on a single idea: returning to a French central bank that can infuse money into the economy,” he said. “It’s crazy but there is a certain logic behind it. Then seven days before election, all of sudden the candidate tries to remove this piece of the puzzle.”

Monot downplayed concerns, noting that Le Pen wants to re-create the European Monetary System so that national currencies would float against each other within given bands. The newly created franc would be issued at parity to the euro, he said.

“It can all be done without radicalism, without brutality,” he said. French voters’ savings will be intact and the country will escape the “totalitarian” demands of euro membership, in Monot’s view.

For many economists, the end result is the same.

“What it would mean would be that the European Union would explode, that’s the logical conclusion,” said Philippe Waechter, chief economist at Natixis Asset Management in Paris.

Both Le Pen and Macron are scheduled to appear in separate interviews on France 2 Television during the 8 p.m. newscast Sunday.

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