PARIS -- To each his own. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ announcement on Saturday that he plans a referendum on the European Union’s proposed bailout plan has been strongly applauded by the leadership of France's National Front party. While financial markets plunge into disarray as rumblings of a Greek exit from the eurozone grow louder, the party of Marine Le Pen rejoices over this “beautiful democracy lesson” addressed “to the Eurocentric class.”
It's not much of a surprise to see France's extreme-right party supporting the coalition of the Athenian radical left. Despite their ideological differences, the National Front welcomed the victory of Syriza in the Greek elections in January, lauding it as as a “slap in the face” to the euro and the austerity politics of the European Union.
In the wake of Saturday's referendum announcement, the National Front hopes to capitalize on the Greek example in order to promote its own strategy for the euro and a European Union exit. The party has done the same with British Prime Minister David Cameron's announcement that he plans a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. Le Pen intends to push a similar plan.
Since 2012, Le Pen has not ceased refining details of the terms and conditions of a “Frexit,” France’s exit program from the EU. The strategy now appears set. “If I am elected president of the republic, I will commit myself, alongside the French, to organize, within six months, a referendum on the exit from the European Union,” Le Pen warned last year. For six months, she would negotiate the support of France in exchange for a return to the four “sovereignties:” territorial (reestablishment of borders), monetary (return to the franc), legislative (end of the automatic transcription of standards) and economic (national preference and protectionism). In other words, she would lead an organized dismemberment of the European Union, reduced to its smallest part.
What remains is to convince the French that the National Front program’s central approach is neither “leaping into the unknown,” nor the promise of an economic catastrophe, as its opponents argue.
Many say that the possibility of a Greek secession has come at just the right time. The National Front, the leading party when it comes to the number of French elected officials in the Strasbourg Parliament, wants to believe that Tsipras thumbing his nose at the Eurogroup is going to make its own program credible, all while sounding the death knell of a half-century of building Europe. “We are moving towards Greece’s exit from the Eurozone,” the party's vice president, Florian Philippot, said Monday on France Info. Philippot said it would be a prophetic setback that would show “that this infernal Eurocentric machine’s advance is not relentless, that the people are there to take back some control.”
Solidly anchored in the Bonapartist tradition (under Napoleon III, “the call to the people” is constitutionalized) and modernized by the Gaullists under the French Fifth Republic, the referendum offers many advantages to National Front leaders. The referendum path would allow the Front to assert itself as a party that guarantees the people’s respect and national sovereignty against the pro-European parties, relegated to the status of “auxiliaries of Brussels.” And it remains a reassurance to National Front voters who support Le Pen’s program, but hesitate about taking the plunge when it comes to the “Frexit.” With the ultimatum of a referendum, nothing will be settled until after 2017.
Saturday's press release on the National Front’s reaction to Tsipras’s referendum decision claimed something prophetic. “One day will come, very soon, when the French people themselves will also decide about their future, their sovereignty, their prosperity and their liberty by referendum. This referendum will not be organized by the leaders of the UMP and the Parti Socialiste, but by patriots committed to democracy and the power of the people.”
The use of the referendum as a weapon of European destruction is nothing new for the right or the far-right, where similar projects have multiplied for several months. In 2016, the U.K. must decide for or against the European Union. British Prime Minister David Cameron has made his support conditional upon approval of major concessions from Brussels. Viktor Orban’s ultra-nationalist Hungarian government has announced it will be sending questionnaires to its population in order to make a decision concerning the fate of migrants and to consult them about the death penalty. The “Union democratique du centre,” the Right populist party of Switzerland itself, had an anti-immigration vote for putting a limit on “the number of authorizations given during the stay of foreigners.”
All these European initiatives inspire the National Front. After having demanded a popular vote on the European budget treaty in 2012, Le Pen’s party has raised a cry for the establishment of a popular referendum based on the Swiss model, has advised a referendum on immigration, and has filed (in vain) a bill authorizing the removal by referendum of the president of the republic.
This article originally appeared in HuffPost France and was translated into English.