On Sunday, France’s Republican Party will choose its candidate for the presidential election next spring. Opinion polls say that the Republicans are so far ahead that the party, in effect, is about to name the next president — either Alain Juppe or Francois Fillon, former prime ministers offering not-too-dissimilar conservative programs.
The polls, for once, had better be right. The likely alternative to either of those men would be disastrous — and not just for France.
Support for the Socialist party has collapsed: President Francois Hollande’s approval rating stands (if that’s the right word) at 4 percent. So the Republican nominee is likely to face Marine Le Pen, leader of the populist National Front. She’s France’s answer to Donald Trump, except with more self-discipline, added xenophobia and a clearer sense of purpose. If she wins, the European Union would be badly and perhaps fatally wounded. By comparison, Brexit would be a minor nuisance.
Le Pen celebrated Britain’s vote to quit last June as the beginning of the end for the EU — a project she’s called “objectively a total failure.” An EU without France, which designed and built the EU alongside Germany, is objectively a hard thing to imagine. A National Front victory would shake Europe more violently than Trump’s win has rocked the U.S.
The polls suggest that either Fillon or Juppe ought to beat her easily — but there are many unknowns. It’s unclear who will stand for the Socialists, for example, or whether Emmanuel Macron (who quit the government earlier this year and leads a new party) will gather strong support. Right now, though, the threat from Le Pen looks real.