Posts Tagged ‘France’

Le Pen plan to jettison euro spooks French business

March 26, 2017


© AFP/File / by Daphné BENOIT | France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen blames the euro for driving up prices, hurting exports and adding to France’s already colossal trade deficit

PARIS (AFP) – The euro — and her fervent wish to withdraw from it — is a central theme of every stump speech by French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, topping her list of 144 election pledges.

Le Pen calls the single European currency a “a knife that you stick in a country’s ribs to force it to do what its people don’t want to do”.

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The leader of the National Front (FN) blames the euro for driving up prices, hurting exports and adding to France’s already colossal trade deficit.

She has pledged that, if elected, she will throw off the shackles of the common currency and restore France’s monetary sovereignty by resurrecting the franc.

With all opinion polls showing her getting past the first round of the election on April 23, making the once-unthinkable prospect of a far-right presidency no longer completely implausible, economists and business leaders are worried.

Although Le Pen, 48, currently looks set to lose the May 7 runoff, probably to independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, no one is being complacent.

“No one knows what will happen,” said Jean-Lou Blachier of France’s Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, referring to Britain’s surprise vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s shock election in the United States last year.

Le Pen argues that bringing back the franc would help retool France’s ailing industrial sector.

She believes a devalued national currency would make exports cheaper, boosting job creation.

Emboldened by Britain’s taboo-breaking Brexit vote, Le Pen also promises to hold a “Frexit” referendum, saying the EU “shuts us in, constrains us, bullies us”.

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– ‘Whole eurozone could disappear’ –

Most experts however say that scrapping the euro would be disastrous, and not just for France.

Ratings agencies have warned that the eurozone’s second-biggest economy could be headed for a default if the country converts its towering 2.2 trillion-euro debt into francs.

“If France leaves the single currency, the whole eurozone could disappear,” said Mathieu Plane of a French economic think tank, the OFCE, warning of an “unprecedented crisis”.

Benoit Coeure, who sits on the board of the European Central Bank, warned that France’s borrowing costs would rise and that prices would rise, rather than fall.

“Inflation, which would be out of the hands of the ECB, would eat into savings, fixed incomes and pensions,” he said.

“Leaving the euro would be choosing impoverishment.”

– ‘Project Fear’ –

Le Pen has dismissed the criticism as scaremongering.

“That’s called Project Fear. It was used before Brexit,” she told her conservative rival Francois Fillon during a TV debate this month when he warned her programme would trigger “economic and social chaos”.

Le Pen has said she can organise an orderly exit from the eurozone and suggested bringing back the European Currency Unit (ECU), a pre-euro basket of currencies, that businesses could use alongside the franc.

But polls show voters are still unconvinced.

Paris University economics professor Dominique Meurs said that despite the resistance, he expected Le Pen to stick to her guns.

“Leaving the euro and the EU is completely consistent with the FN’s obsession with the national identity (and) its total rejection of multilateral decisions,” she said.

Such a move would be a “dramatic break” with European convention, Meurs said.

“What she is proposing is not some small change, it’s really a big deal because she could potentially be elected.”

It is not just in France that big business is worried about Le Pen’s election pledges.

Giant Swiss bank Credit Suisse said this month a Le Pen victory in May was the biggest risk to European stability.

by Daphné BENOIT

Jean-Claude Juncker says it is a ‘tragedy’ that EU is celebrating 60th anniversary without Britain

March 25, 2017

The Telegraph

March 25, 2017

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker looks on during a special summit of EU leaders to mark the 60th anniversary of the bloc's founding Treaty of Rome

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker looks on during a special summit of EU leaders to mark the 60th anniversary of the bloc’s founding Treaty of Rome

Brexit is a “tragedy” for the Europe Union, the bloc’s chief Jean-Claude Juncker lamented yesterday, as the leaders of the remaining 27 EU member states gathered in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the organisation’s founding treaty.

Theresa May, who will trigger Article 50 to begin Britain’s formal withdrawal from the EU on Wednesday, was conspicuous by her absence as the leaders stepped up to sign a new Rome Declaration setting out a vision for the future of the European Union without Britain.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers a speech during a special summit of EU leaders to mark the 60th anniversary of the bloc's founding Treaty of Rome,
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers a speech during a special summit of EU leaders to mark the 60th anniversary of the bloc’s founding Treaty of Rome

The 1,000-word document was signed in the same room in Michelangelo’s  sumptuously decorated Palazzo dei Conservatori on Rome’s Capitoline hill where the leaders of the six founding EU member signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 – but this time contained no mention of “ever closer union”.

“Brexit, the exit of Britain, is a tragedy,” Mr Juncker said as the leaders proclaimed that the EU was “undivided and indivisible” despite the fierce disagreements that have roiled the bloc in recent years over immigration, the euro and the ongoing sovereign debt crisis.

Juncker: “We are not proud enough of what we have achieved in Europe”.

Asked whether the Rome document represented the lowest common denominator of European ambition, Mr Juncker said the disagreements over the text, which Poland and Greece were threatening to refuse to sign just 24 hours earlier, represented strength, not weakness.

“What we achieved in the days before Rome, and in the last few hours here in Rome, conveys something of an incipient optimistic mood – because, contrary to what was assumed, there was no clash, no big dispute between several conceivable paths,” he said.

As he spoke, there were demonstrations across Europe in support of the EU, including in London where a ‘Unite for Europe’ march headed towards parliament, with dozens of protesters carrying yellow flowers to lay at a memorial for the Westminster attack victims.

Tsipras on social Europe: “Its an open-ended fight. We will keep struggling.”

However despite the promise of unity, within minutes of the ceremony closing some EU leaders made clear that the disagreements which had been put aside yesterday would soon resurface.

Alexis Tspiras, the Greek prime minister, said he had thought hard about refusing to sign the declaration in a protest against demands from Brussels and Berlin for further austerity measures in order to release the next tranche of Greece’s €86 billion bailout.

After the ceremony, Mr Tsipras said he had been satisfied by a reference in the declaration to “unparalleled levels” of social protection in Europe, but made clear he would continue to fight demands for further cuts to pensions.

Pope Francis greets France's President Francois Hollande after an audience with European Union leaders in Vatican
Pope Francis greets France’s President Francois Hollande after an audience with European Union leaders in the Vatican

 “I was thinking about whether to sign or not,” he said, “but I believe we managed to put inside a very significant reference to a ‘social Europe’. Secondly, it’s an open-ended fight and we will keep struggling.”

Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister and European Council president who was born only a month after the signing of the Treaty of Rome, gave an emotional address about growing up behind the Iron Curtain.

Describing his own struggle for democracy growing up in Gdansk and fighting with Poland’s Solidarity movement, he warned that if Europe could not unite, then the project that transformed his own life, would fail.

“Europe as a political entity will either be united, or will not be at all,” he said. “Only a united Europe can be a sovereign Europe in relation to the rest of the world. Only a sovereign Europe guarantees independence for its nations, guarantees freedom for its citizens.”

Some leaders accepted there had been failure. Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian prime minister, said that Brexit indicated that the Europe Union was in need a fundamental re-think and had failed to respond adequately to the challenges thrown up by globalization.

He noted that the EU had suffered a “crisis of rejection” in Brexit, but also made clear that the EU was looking resolutely ahead to a future without Britain in its ranks: “There were six of us back then,” he said,  “today we are 27”.

View image on Twitter

.@JunckerEU: “Nous avons réussi la paix, un marché commun, une monnaie unique. Raisons pour être fiers de l’Europe.”

He added: “In facing that changed world, Europe turned up too late – on immigration, security, growth, jobs. We cannot, Jean Monnet urged, stop when around us the entire world is moving. But unfortunately we did, we stopped. We did.

“And that triggered in a segment of public opinion – which proved to be the majority in the United Kingdom – a crisis of rejection. It brought forward nationalistic sentiment that we thought had been consigned to the archives and so that is the real message which must emerge for us from today’s celebrations.”

Despite the promise of a ‘rebirth’ of the European Union after Brexit, regional analysts said that the Rome Declaration represented the limits of the EU’s ability to reform itself.

“The Rome summit has resulted in grand statements of intent, but substantial political limitations are going to limit the EU’s collective ability to radically alter the status quo,” said Mujtaba Rahman, head of the Europe practice at the Eurasia Group.

“So while EU leaders are now going to aim for a more multi-speed structure in some areas, the end result is likely to be more business as usual.”

 Related here on Peace and Freedom:

What does a multi-speed EU mean for central and eastern Europe? — “Poland is EU’s problem child”

March 25, 2017

Central and eastern EU member states are wary that a so-called “multi-speed” Europe will relegate them to the bloc’s second tier. However, a more flexible Europe may just be the boost they’ve always needed.

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Saturday’s summit commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties was always going to be more than just a celebration of peace and unity. It will be a landmark for the bloc’s next leap of faith as it sets out its post-Brexit roadmap.

Top of the bill is the proposal for a so-called “multi-speed” Europe, which is likely to form the basis of any declaration coming out of the Rome summit.

Under this new, looser framework, EU member states will be able to cooperate on various initiatives if they so choose, while those that would rather opt out will be allowed to do so. This means, in theory, that no country will be forced to commit to any deal it deems practically or ideologically untenable.

The notion of a “multi-speed” Europe is by no means new: the single currency and Schengen agreement can already be regarded as part of such an approach. Yet the idea has been spurred by recent policy deadlocks in Brussels, namely over defense and migration.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the first leaders to raise the prospect of a “multi-speed” EU at February’s summit in Valletta, before it quickly gained the backing of the bloc’s other founding members. Accelerated integration among some is preferred to standstill for all.

Broken eastern promises?

However, the prospect has made some eastern and central European nations wary that it could hollow out EU institutions and enforce larger members’ dominance.

Poland’s Kaczynski says EU on path toward disintegration


Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party – currently the EU’s problem child – has decried the move, warning that it could tear apart the EU. Reports suggest that Poland could try to veto the proposal..

“Kaczynski mentions that in Europe it is hegemony of Germany, and Merkel twists arms so that any decisions that are taken are good for Germany and nobody else,” Jakub Wisniewski, vice president of GLOBSEC think tank and Poland’s former ambassador to the OECD, told DW. “When seen through these lenses, any future integration will reinforce this trend… when other countries on the European peripheries will be deprived of rights and of their entitlements, such as money flowing from Brussels through structural funds.”

Meanwhile, the EU’s newest member states – Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia – have voiced concerns that the EU institutions that give them clout on the continent could be hollowed out. All three countries have made tremendous efforts in their transitioning to democracy and EU values. However, if the western European economies choose their integration path, the countries could fear they will find themselves relegated to the second tier of European policy making.

How the region benefits

However, any protest from central and eastern members against the two-speed concept would to be self-defeating for the region.

EU leaders discuss different speeds

First, more flexibility would only enforce the region’s more practical approach to EU integration. “The likes of Austria and Poland already have a pragmatic attitude towards the EU,” Dina Pardijs, program coordinator at the European Council of Foreign Relations and co-author of the report “How the EU Can Bend Without Breaking,” told DW.

“They embrace the parts that work for them and disregard the parts that don’t. More flexible cooperation, even if it weakens the EU’s structures, wouldn’t be that bad for them.”

Second, while a multi-speed approach would see new circles of cooperation emerging, they would likely be established within the current EU treaties rather than through the formation of new structures.
“Countries are being very careful not to put any very disruptive proposals forward,” Pardijs said. “So if anything they will be too careful and probably make too small a step for the goal of breaking deadlock to be achieved.”

Perhaps the most positive bearing will be enjoyed by the region’s EU candidate states. According to Wisniewski, any tapering within the single market or freedom of movement among the peripheral countries would dramatically lower the threshold for EU membership. It would also be less disruptive on the economy of any new state.

Integration within the European Union finds itself at a crossroads. If a multi-speed framework comes to fruition, Western European states will likely embark on their own accelerated path for integration, while central and eastern European states will coordinate when it suits them and pursue their own initiatives.

The end of ever-closer union may prove to be just the impetus EU integration needed.

Includes video:


” (Poland’s Kaczynski says EU on path toward disintegration)

EU seeks post-Brexit unity by going back to roots at Rome — Pope Francis points out a “vacuum of values”

March 25, 2017
By Alastair Macdonald and Crispian Balmer
March 25, 2017
EU seeks post-Brexit unity by going back to roots at Rome

By Alastair Macdonald and Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – Sixty years ago, Britain shunned a meeting in Rome where six war-scarred neighbors founded what became the EU; on Saturday, it is again absent, this time from a somber birthday party as it quits a bloc which now embraces most of Europe.

It might have been a modestly hopeful summit to mark the 28-nation European Union’s 60th anniversary in the palazzo where old foes France and Germany, with Italy and the Benelux countries, signed the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.

Instead, it will be overshadowed by the unprecedented departure of a member state, which Prime Minister Theresa May will initiate next Wednesday.

All the bloc’s economies are growing after a slump that has blighted the past decade and recent border chaos has largely abated as refugees are, for now, being held in check.

But Brexit, which should take effect in March 2019 if a two-year timetable holds, has undermined the self-confidence of a Union that might see its 60 years of strengthening peace and growing prosperity as a success, and has encouraged eurosceptic nationalists challenging governments from Stockholm to Sicily.

It has also amplified the petty frictions among the more than two dozen national governments and obliged leaders’ aides to water down a grand birthday declaration of unity.

Britain originally snubbed the Treaty of Rome, but changed its mind about the Common Market three years later. It was made to wait however by the suspicious French until 1973 before joining and it voted to leave the Union last June in a divisive referendum whose consequences remain unclear.

After days of carping from Poland and Greece, seeking to show home voters they were getting Brussels to give assurances about equal treatment and social welfare, the Rome Declaration the 27 will sign in the late morning offers ringing phrases about peace and unity.

But it may disappoint those who think more ambition and coordination is the answer to malaise.


At the Vatican on Friday, Pope Francis told the assembled leaders, Roman Catholics and non-Catholics alike, that their Union had achieved much in 60 years but that Europe faced a “vacuum of values”. He condemned anti-immigrant populism and extremism that he said posed a mortal threat to the bloc.

“When a body loses its sense of direction and is no longer able to look ahead, it experiences a regression and, in the long run, risks dying,” said the Argentinian pontiff.

Their response, he said, should be to promote Europe’s ideals and values with more vigor and passion.

He urged states to show more “solidarity”, a vexed word today, where Germans, say, complain Poles are not taking in refugees or Greeks bemoan a lack of debt relief from Germany.

And the first non-European pope in over 1,000 years reminded them of the diminishing share of the world’s wealth and people in Europe. They were a “peninsula of Asia”, Francis told them, urging them to remain open to the rest of the world.

Security will be tight around the muted celebrations in the Campidoglio palace in central Rome, with protesters planning to gather through the day and police on high alert after the latest attack in Europe, on Wednesday in London.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, although it was unclear what links – if any – the attacker Khalid Masood, who killed four people, had with the militant group.

The attack on the first anniversary of suicide bombings in the EU capital Brussels underlined the common threats Europeans face and drew renewed expressions of concern and reassurance on continued security cooperation between Britain and the Union.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)


Putin Meets Le Pen as Far Right Leader Criticizes Sanctions

March 24, 2017

By Henry Meyer
Bloomberg News

March 24, 2017, 6:10 AM EDT March 24, 2017, 8:15 AM EDT
  • Putin says not trying to influence French presidential poll
  • Le Pen fighting for top spot in first-round vote on April 23

Russian President Vladimir Putin held an unprecedented meeting with French presidential contender Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin Friday, hours after the National Front leader had urged a joint fight against terrorism and an end to European Union sanctions against his country.

“We’re not trying in any way to influence events but we reserve the right for ourselves to meet with representatives of all political forces of the country, as our partners do, for example in Europe and the U.S.,” Putin said in televised comments of the opening of their meeting, which wasn’t announced in advance.

Vladimir Putin and Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin on March 24.

Photographer: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP via Getty Images

“This meeting is especially important now that a serious terrorist threat hangs over all of us,” Le Pen said, according to a transcript provided by the Kremlin. At talks with Putin ally, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, earlier Friday, Le Pen said she’s always opposed EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict as “counterproductive.”

The visit by the far right firebrand comes a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed Le Pen and U.S. President Donald Trump as “realists” and not as representatives of “populist” political views. Le Pen, who’s seen in polls as likely to reach the May 7 run-off for the presidency, is Putin’s most outspoken admirer among the top five French candidates. She openly backs his 2014 annexation of Crimea that along with the covert Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine prompted the EU to impose punitive measures.

Le Pen’s visit to Moscow was an “excellent opportunity” to meet Putin for the first time, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. They didn’t discuss financial aid for the National Front, Peskov said.

Campaign Finance

Le Pen is seeking money to help her finance her presidential run and says French banks are refusing to lend her the millions of euros she needs. So far, she has a 6-million-euro loan from Cotelec, according to wealth filings with authorities made public this week.

Russia’s First Czech-Russian Bank OOO helped Le Pen finance an earlier campaign with a 9-million-euro loan in 2014. In the same year, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen’s political fund Cotelec received another 2-million-euro loan from a Russian-backed fund based in Cyprus, news website Mediapart reported.

Russia appeared to switch its support from Le Pen to Francois Fillon when he emerged as the conservative Republicans’ contender for the French presidency, with Putin telling reporters in November that they had “very good” relations. With support for Fillon sliding ahead of next month’s first-round voting, polls show Le Pen is likely to face and lose to Emmanuel Macron in the run-off, a 39-year-old independent who backs the EU sanctions and accuses the Kremlin of cyberattacks on his campaign.

Le Pen visits Russia ahead of French presidential election

March 24, 2017

AFP, Reuters and The Associated Press

© Alain Jocard, AFP | An admirer of Vladimir Putin, France’s Marine Le Pen has described the Russian president as “good for world peace”.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-03-24

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was due in Moscow on Friday for meetings with lawmakers less than a month before a presidential election clouded by allegations of Russian interference.


The leader of the National Front, an anti-immigrant and anti-European Union party, is seeking to bolster her international credentials ahead of the two-round French election on April 23 and May 7.

Her visit comes on the heels of a trip this week to Chad, base of a French military operation that’s aimed at rooting out Islamic extremists from a swath of Africa.

The head of the Russian Duma’s international affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying Le Pen would hold meetings on the “international agenda such as the war on terrorism”.

There was no official word as to whether the French far-right leader would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom she has described as “good for world peace”.

The trip comes at a time when lawmakers in the US are investigating President Donald Trump‘s campaign links to Russia.

Le Pen, an admirer of both Trump and Putin, has made multiple visits to Russia, as have her father, niece and other members of the National Front, often meeting with Russian legislators.


She received a $9 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014 that raised concerns over Moscow’s potential influence on her and her party.

Moscow has courted far-right parties in Europe in an influence-building campaign as friction between Russia and the West has mounted over the conflict in Ukraine and the Syrian civil war.

Le Pen has said she considers Crimea – which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014 – a part of Russia, and would cultivate closer ties with Russia if elected president rather than pressuring it over Putin’s authoritarian policies.

National Front Treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just said Le Pen’s trip is not a cash-raising exercise, though party members have said they are seeking millions to fund both the presidential and the ensuing parliamentary election campaigns.

Current polls suggest Le Pen could win the first round of voting but would lose the second round to centrist Emmanuel Macron.

A senior aide to Macron has accused Russia of using its state media to spread fake news to discredit Macron and influence the outcome of the vote.

The Russian connections of the number three presidential contender, François Fillon, have also been a feature of the campaign ahead of the first-round vote in a month’s time.

The Kremlin has denied meddling in the campaign. It also said this week that a French media report alleging Fillon was paid to arrange introductions to Putin was “fake news”.


Anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats move into second place in polls

March 23, 2017


Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe


Thu Mar 23, 2017 | 8:45am EDT

The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats have overtaken the center-right Moderates and are the second most popular party in the Nordic country, polls showed this week.

Growing worries about immigration in Sweden, which received a record 160,000 refugees in 2015, have boosted support for the Sweden Democrats, echoing the rise of populist parties across Europe.

The party got 19.2 percent support in a poll published on Thursday by Novus for Swedish Television, up from 18.5 percent a month ago. That compares with the 13 percent they polled in the general election in 2014.

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Photo: Sweden — Protesers burn the national flag

In a second poll in daily Dagens Nyheter they got 18 percent, up from 17 percent.

Both polls showed that the party was in second place for the first time behind the Social Democrats, who form the minority government with the Green Party.

“If we become the second largest (second most popular) party, or even the biggest party, it will of course be harder for the other parties to leave us out in the cold,” party secretary Richard Jomshof, told Swedish Television.

The Sweden Democrats have re-drawn Sweden’s political map, making it impossible for either the center-left or the center-right to form a majority government without them.

All the mainstream parties had refused to have any contact with them, but faced with the prospect of political deadlock, center-right Moderate party leader Anna Kinberg Batra said recently she was prepared to work with the Sweden Democrats.

Support for the Moderates, the biggest party in the center-right Alliance has slumped since Batra broke ranks.

The Moderate Party – the biggest in the opposition Alliance bloc – saw their support drop to 18.0 percent in the Novus poll and down to 17.0 percent in the Ipsos survey.

As late as January, the Moderates were polling around 22-23 percent.

Batra’s move has widened divisions in the four-party center-right Alliance with the Centre and Liberal parties ruling out cooperation with the Sweden Democrats.

However, the government has little to celebrate. Support for the Social Democrats, the biggest party in the coalition, was around 27 percent, down from 31 percent in 2014’s election.

The Green Party is polling close to the 4 percent threshold for seats in parliament.

(Reporting by Johan Sennero; Editing by Toby Davis)


© AFP/File / by Fanny CARRIER | Hellish conditions in Libya (and other parts of Africa) drive a surge in the numbers of migrants trying to reach Europe


 (Contains links to several other related articles)

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Migrant children from Syria sleep outside the Swedish Migration Board, in Marsta, Sweden. Photo by AP

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Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe last year. Getty

Marine Le Pen accuses rivals of promoting ‘project fear’ as Brexit looms large in presidential debate — Fillon accused Ms Le Pen of being a “serial killer” of the French economy

March 21, 2017

The Telegraph

Marine Le Pen was accused of being a "serial killer" of the French economy

Marine Le Pen was accused of being a “serial killer” of the French economy CREDIT: AFP

By Henry Samuel

Marine Le Pen accused her main rivals in France’s presidential race of promoting “project fear” over her plans to leave the European Union and the euro in an unprecedented televised debate on Monday night.

Brexit was the focal point of one of the most violent clashes in the three-hour debate – the first of three before the first round of voting on April 23 – in which the five main candidates finally started discussing policy in a campaign dogged by sleaze allegations.

In one of a series of heated exchanges, conservative nominee François Fillon accused Ms Le Pen of being a “serial killer” of the French economy in her plan to exit the euro, restore the franc, and to hold a referendum on leaving the EU.

“You are dragging the country towards veritable economic and social chaos, which would lead to the ruin of both borrowers and savers,” he said.

Polls suggest that almost three quarters of the French are against Ms Le Pen’s plan to replace the euro with the franc, with many fearing it could spark a bank run if she was elected.

Candidates from left to right: Francois Fillon, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Marine Le Pen and Benoit Hamon 
Candidates from left to right: Francois Fillon, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Marine Le Pen and Benoit Hamon  CREDIT: AP

Ms Le Pen, who, according to polls, will reach the final round of the election only to be trounced by independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, hit back: “That’s called project fear.”

“They used the same argument before the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump,” she said.

Mr Macron, 39, an ex-banker and former economy minister who has never held elected office, chimed in, saying: “Those who were responsible for Brexit, who said everything is possible and it will be wonderful have all scampered off. They have all gone into hiding.”

He predicted that Britain would suffer from leaving the EU.

“We’re going to start seeing the results (of their departure). Because it’s other Conservatives who are going to have to deal with it, and by the way we’re going to have to be incredibly rigorous (in negotiating with Britain about its exit by not giving them any undue concessions),” he said.

Ms Le Pen told him to “be a good sport”.

“The results in Britain are wonderful. They have unemployment that is lower than it’s been for decades.”

“But they have not left yet,” Mr Fillon said. “They are right in the middle of it.”

The pair also clashed on secularism, when Ms Le Pen claimed Mr Macron was in favour of the burkini, the body-covering Islamic garment that was recently the subject of controversy on French beaches.

“I don’t need a ventriloquist,” he shot back. “You are lying (to voters) by twisting the truth.”

Emmanuel Macron, left, greets Francois Fillon ahead of the televised debate
Emmanuel Macron, left, greets Francois Fillon ahead of the televised debate CREDIT: AP

Migration and Islam were also flash points. “I want to put an end to legal and illegal immigration,” said Ms Le Pen said, linking it to Islamic fundamentalism and an “explosive” security situation in France.

The debate, which also included Socialist hopeful Benoît Hamon and leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, covered a wide range of topics, including the economy and foreign policy.  Another six minor candidates were not invited to speak on private channel TF1, to their fury, having to make do with a parallel internet debate.

The consensus was that Mr Macron, who pledges to modernise France with a “neither Left nor Right” approach, had the most to lose.

While favourite, polls suggest millions of French voters remain unsure the former banker’s hands are safe enough to take on what is often dubbed the most powerful job, constitutionally speaking, in the Western world.

A snap poll after the debate by the BFMTV channel showed that 29 per cent of viewers thought that Mr Macron had won, with Mr Mélenchon in second with 20 per cent, Ms Le Pen and Mr Fillon on 19 per cent and Mr Hamon on 11 per cent.

French Presidential Election: Poll results at the link:

Ms Le Pen hopes the debates will break the glass ceiling in polls currently predicting she stands virtually no chance of clinching the presidency.

A Kantar Sofres-Onepoint poll out on Monday put Ms Le Pen level pegging with Mr Macron on 26 per cent in round one, but with him then trouncing her in the run-off on around 60 per cent. However, with half of French voters saying they are still undecided and a third currently intending to abstain, the stakes are high and on-air slips could radically change the pecking order.

Once favourite but now trailing on 17 per cent, Mr Fillon, 63, is desperate to turn the page on the disclosure that he used almost €1  million (£870,000) of taxpayers’ money to employ his wife and children, and suspicions he broke rules on donations by accepting a gift of two suits worth a total of €13,000.

Profile of Marine Le Pen:

He notably hit out at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying her management of the migration crisis had caused huge problems for Europe.

“I completely disagree with Emmanuel Macron who praised the German chancellor when he was in Berlin for (refugee) policies that turned out to be bad policies and which are now criticised by her own allies in Germany,” said Mr Fillon.

“The way this crisis was handled has created an enormous problem for Europe,” Mr Fillon added.

On the defensive over sleaze, the Les Républicains candidate insisted his radical plans to slash spending and public sector jobs would save France from ruin.

“I will be the president of national recovery. I will free the French from bureaucracy, from an excess of rules that stop them realising their dreams and block them in their lives. I will put them in place to become the first power in European within 10 years,” he said.


A picture taken on February 7, 2017 shows the wreckage of a burnt car in one of the main streets of the Cite des 3000 in Aulnay-sous-Bois

The wreckage of a burnt car in Aulnay-sous-Bois after angry French youths clashed with police over the alleged rape of a local man during his arrest. CREDIT:GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT /AFP/GETTY IMAGES 

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 Paris — April 2016 — A protestor kicks a tear gas cannister as demonstrators clash with anti-riot police. Photograph by Joel Saget, AFP, Getty Images
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Paris, March 2016
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French riot police clashing with union members and students demonstrating against labour law reforms, in Paris on March 31, 2016. PHOTO – AFP

Lockdown: The streets of Paris are being patrolled by soldiers dressed in combat fatigues and carrying Famas assault rifles this afternoon after a terror attack killed 12 people earlier in the day

US envoy says US-EU trade deal still alive

March 21, 2017


© AFP | A container ship is moored up in Liverpool, north-west England
BRUSSELS (AFP) – Negotiations for a mega US-EU trade deal are still alive after they were suspended over elections and public opposition on both sides of the Atlantic, a senior US diplomat said Tuesday.EU officials had feared US President Donald Trump would abandon the four-year talks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) after he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“I would really take issue with the notion that the TTIP is dead,” said Adam Shub, who is running the US mission to the European Union pending Trump’s appointment of a new ambassador.

“We are reviewing it. You know the president’s position on TPP, but TTIP is not in that category,” Shub told the foreign affairs committee in the European parliament.

Most Europeans had assumed that Trump would kill the TTIP deal in the same way he quashed the similar TPP accord with Asia just days after taking office in January.

Tuesday’s surprise twist came after the Trump administration ruffled feathers at G20 talks over the weekend by refusing to condemn protectionism in a final statement.

Talks with the EU were put on the “backburner” or “freezer” because of elections on both sides of the Atlantic, Shub said.

“I think it was our perception that, due to the difficulty with the upcoming German election, the Netherlands election,  the French election, this was not the best climate to continue a trade negotiation that was perceived in many parts of the public as something very, very different,” he added.

“One has to be an optimist,” Shub added.

Shub said a clearer position would emerge once the Trump administration appoints a new trade representative to replace Michael Froman, who served under President Barack Obama.

Brussels and Washington had sought to get the TTIP deal through by the time Obama left office but fell short.

Tillerson plans to skip NATO meeting, visit Russia in April – sources

March 21, 2017


By Arshad Mohammed and John Walcott | WASHINGTON

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip a meeting with NATO foreign ministers next month in order to stay home for a visit by China’s president and will go to Russia later in April, U.S. officials said on Monday, disclosing an itinerary that allies may see as giving Moscow priority over them.

Tillerson intends to miss what would have been his first meeting of the 28 NATO allies on April 5-6 in Brussels so that he can attend President Donald Trump’s expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, four current and former U.S. officials said.

Skipping the NATO meeting and visiting Moscow could risk feeding a perception that Trump may be putting U.S. dealings with big powers first, while leaving waiting those smaller nations that depend on Washington for security, two former U.S. officials said.

Trump has often praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Tillerson worked with Russia’s government for years as a top executive at Exxon Mobil Corp, and has questioned the wisdom of sanctions against Russia that he said could harm U.S. businesses.

A State Department spokeswoman said Tillerson would meet on Wednesday with foreign ministers from 26 of the 27 other NATO countries — all but Croatia — at a gathering of the coalition working to defeat the Islamic State militant group.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was due to have arrived in Washington on Monday for a three-day visit that was to include talks with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and to take part in the counter-Islamic State meetings.

The State Department spokeswoman said Tillerson would not have a separate, NATO-focused meeting the 26 foreign ministers in Washington but rather that they would meet in the counter-Islamic State talks.

“After these consultations and meetings, in April he will travel to a meeting of the G7 (Group of Seven) in Italy and then on to meetings in Russia,” she added, saying U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon would represent the United States at the NATO foreign ministers meeting.


Representative Eliot Engel, the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said that Tillerson was making a mistake by skipping the Brussels talks.

“Donald Trump’s Administration is making a grave error that will shake the confidence of America’s most important alliance and feed the concern that this Administration simply too cozy with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin,” Engel said in a written statement.

“I cannot fathom why the Administration would pursue this course except to signal a change in American foreign policy that draws our country away from western democracy’s most important institutions and aligns the United States more closely with the autocratic regime in the Kremlin,” he added.

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Representative Eliot Engel. AP photo

A former U.S. official echoed the view.

“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsie with Russia,” said the former U.S. official on condition of anonymity.

“You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats. You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added.

Any Russian visit by a senior Trump administration official may be carefully scrutinized after the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday publicly confirmed his agency was investigating any collusion between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.

Trump has already worried NATO allies by referring to the Western security alliance as “obsolete” and by pressing other members to meet their commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

Last week, he dismayed British officials by shrugging off a media report, forcefully denied by Britain, that the administration of former President Barack Obama tapped his phones during the 2016 White House race with the aid of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency.

A former U.S. official and a former NATO diplomat, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said the alliance offered to change the meeting dates so Tillerson could attend it and the Xi Jinping talks but the State Department had rebuffed the idea.

The former diplomat said it was vital to present a united front toward Moscow. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 to serve as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

“Given the challenge that Russia poses, not just to the United States but to Europe, it’s critical to engage on the basis of a united front if at all possible,” the diplomat said.

(Additional Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Lisa Shumaker & Simon Cameron-Moore)