There has been some confusion why Germany and the Eurozone are so strict in negotiating with France and unwilling to concede even to the smallest of what they deem as outlandish Greek demands. The reason is not so much whether Spain or even Italy, both countries with soaring unemployment, a lost generation and a sweeping movement against "austerity", follow with comparable demands should Europe concede to Tsipras, but France, where the frontrunner for the next president, the National Front's Marine Le Pen, has just warned that not only is a Grexit inevitable, but that France would follow shortly.
Here it is worth reminding that one of the biggest European concerns with Greece is not so much its resolute attitude toward Greek demands which Europe can easily squash and force a regime change by cutting off ELA to Greek banks forcing a prompt and violent coup d'etat, but dealing with political parties who promise anything and everything just to be elected, in the process pushing aside Europe's preferred technocrats who will do the bidding of Brussels without the smallest objection.
Le Pen is not a technocrat. In fact, as leader of the popular right-wing National Front party she is about as diametrically opposite as one can get to being a puppet of unelected bureaucrats. And that is concerning to Europe because having seen how easy it is for a populist party to get elected in Greece, promising an end to austerity and, if necessary, an exit from the Euro which in addition has become the "black sheep" political parties bogeyman.
Sure enough, that's precisely Le Pen's game plan: as she told Bloomberg in a recent interview, Le Pen, a frontrunner in France’s 2017 presidential election, says a Greek exit from the euro is inevitable. "And if it’s up to her, France won’t be far behind."
“We’ve won a few months’ respite but the problem will come back,” Le Pen said of Greece in an interview at her National Front party headquarters in Nanterre, near Paris, on Tuesday. “Today we’re talking about Grexit, tomorrow it will be Brexit, and the day after tomorrow it will be Frexit.”
And Brussels is listening. Le Pen, 46, is leading first-round presidential election polls in France, ahead of President Francois Hollande, ex-leader Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Manuel Valls. This is hardly good news for the Eurozone because she’s the only one of the four calling for France to exit the euro, banking on people’s exasperation with the Greek crisis and Britain’s proposed referendum on the European Union to win over voters.
Needless to say, without France there is no "European Union", and certainly no common currency.
And just to cement her chances of becoming the next president, Le Pen has already learned that in this day and age it is all about snarky, witty aphorisms and slogans. Such as this one: “I’ll be Madame Frexit if the European Union doesn’t give us back our monetary, legislative, territorial and budget sovereignty.”
What exactly are her demands:
She’s calling for an orderly breakup of the common currency, with France and Germany sitting around the table to dismantle the 15-year-old monetary union.
Since she took over from her father as head of the National Front in 2011, Marine Le Pen has done her best to push the anti-immigration party into the French political mainstream. She came third in the 2012 presidential race and currently has two members in the country’s National Assembly for the first time since 1997.
As a reminder, yesterday we reported that French unemployment just hit a record high.
This is wonderful news for Mme Le Pen. "The combination of tepid economic growth and high unemployment at home, together with hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern immigrants seeking jobs or asylum in Europe, has given Le Pen increased traction."
But the biggest fear is not so much her nationalistic angle, but the threats to crush the world's most expensive artificial currency experiment in history.
Le Pen, meanwhile, is pulling out all the stops to win more votes from the center-right, publicly distancing herself from the anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial of her party’s hard-liners –- which include her father –- and focusing instead on an anti-euro, anti-immigration and anti-radical-Islam platform.
Observers say it would be a mistake to rule her out of the running too quickly.
“To many people in France and to many people outside of France, a lot of the arguments she makes are very sound, particularly given everything that’s transpired,” Blackstone Group LP’s John Studzinski said in an interview Tuesday. “I think people are migrating toward leadership and I think Marine Le Pen is strong on a lot of things.”
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed concern about the level of support Le Pen will receive in 2017 and how that power might weigh on French economic policy.
“She knows perfectly well that if France leaves, there’s no more euro,” Le Pen said. Although Le Pen hasn’t given a full, detailed plan of how she would lead her country out of the euro, she says she doesn’t believe France would be shut out of the borrowing market or rejected by investors as a result.
And so, slowly but surely, Europe's latest doomed attempt to integrate itself monetarily, fiscally, culturally and ethnically is set to crash.
The only question at this point is whether in the summer of 2017 the same European Commission that is currently the venue of the endless Grexit negotiations will be filled with Portugal, Italy, Spain... or France, seeking to recreate the Greek fiasco demanding similar easing of their "austerity" terms as Greece is doing today. Or perhaps all of them together.