The conservative candidate denounced Le Pen’s plans for a referendum on membership of the euro — which he said would mean “chaos” and “Europe’s explosion” — but he couldn’t escape the perception that he faces a real challenge when talking about France’s European diplomacy.
In a speech at his campaign headquarters in Paris, Fillon said the European Union was facing “mortal danger” and would disintegrate if it didn’t undergo “top-to-bottom” renovation. And he reiterated the longstanding view of the Gaullist wing of the French conservative party that European construction is a matter best left to national governments, “mainly France and Germany.”
“The idea of a European people is a romantic fantasy, not a reality,” he said.
Beyond the rhetoric and criticism of “the Brussels machine running on empty, or worse, eroding our freedoms,” Fillon didn’t put forward ideas that haven’t been suggested before him, with mixed results at best.
To strengthen the eurozone, Fillon called yet again for an “economic government” of the monetary union, with an independent Commission body tasked with becoming a “true eurozone Treasury,” and the transformation of the European bailout mechanism (the European Stability Mechanism) into a “European Monetary Fund.”
Similar suggestions have been met with German skepticism or outright opposition.
Save for nuances in the tone, the rest of Fillon’s speech looked like Macron’s stump speech on Europe. Like his rival, Fillon says he wants to convince Berlin that France is serious about reforming its economy. “Without France turning its finances around and liberating its economy, no Franco-German entente will be possible,” he said.
Like Macron, Fillon called for Europe to focus on its top priorities instead of micro-managing the lives of its citizens. Like Macron, he said Europe should take advantage of the Trump presidency to boost its defense capacities, and like Macron he promised to boost France’s defense budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product.