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What Would Marine Le Pen’s Foreign Policy Look Like?

Le Pen holds a foreign-focused briefing today in a campaign where she would rather talk about anything else.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Marine Le Pen takes part in a evening news broadcast.
Marine Le Pen takes part in a evening news broadcast.
French far-right National Rally presidential candidate Marine Le Pen takes part in the evening news broadcast of French TV channel TF1, in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside Paris, on April 12. JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s foreign policy, U.S. President Joe Biden’s accusation of “genocide” in Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Le Pen’s Foreign-Policy Pitch

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s foreign policy, U.S. President Joe Bidens accusation of “genocide” in Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Le Pen’s Foreign-Policy Pitch

The French presidential election showdown between current French President Emmanuel Macron and French politician Marine Le Pen puts the country at a crossroads on foreign policy. And although Macron still holds an edge, a Le Pen victory is well within range, and the National Rally leader knows it.

Today, Le Pen will take questions from the press on her foreign-policy positions as she seeks to cast herself as a presidential alternative. So, how would a Le Pen presidency change France’s posture toward the world?

As in 2017 and now, Le Pen’s focus has mainly centered on domestic concerns, leaving foreign policy often as an afterthought. “Her foreign policy, to me, is either obscure or changeable depending on the circumstances,” Philippe Le Corre, a former French government official and nonresident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Foreign Policy.

Le Corre cited two examples: Le Pen was in favor of ditching the euro currency in the last election (she now wants to keep it), and while campaigning this month, she said she had “partly changed” her mind on Russian President Vladimir Putin following his “indefensible” decision to invade Ukraine.

French voters don’t seem to care. She (along with Macron and the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon) gained support in the first round of France’s presidential contest, in a campaign that has hinged on domestic issues, with the cost of living at the forefront.

While Le Pen is difficult to pin down, there are some aspects to her international outlook that have remained constant and diverge markedly from her rival Macron.

The EU and NATO. “There are really concrete policy reforms that Macron has in mind to strengthen the EU and use it as a vehicle for French interests. Le Pen is the exact opposite,” Martin Quencez, deputy director of the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund, told FP.

Although not an outright proponent of “Frexit,” Le Pen has been critical of the constraints EU law would put on her agenda. Like her fellow right-wingers in Poland, Le Pen takes issue with the primacy of EU law, arguing the French Constitution should come first. Her views on border controls would come in direct confrontation with the European Union’s freedom of movement principles, as would her support for protectionist policies in support of French workers.

On NATO, Le Pen shares the view of her third-placed challenger, Mélenchon, that France would be better off without the treaty alliance, so France would “be no longer caught up in conflicts that are not ours.”

Ukraine. A Le Pen presidency would likely see France become a spoiler when it comes to Europe’s largely unified response to the war in Ukraine. “She would probably go further than [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban and in fact block some of the decisions in Brussels that have to do with Ukraine,” Quencez said.

Like Orban, Le Pen has been outspoken on European weapons transfers, saying sending weapons into Ukraine risks turning France into a co-belligerent in the war (not necessarily a unique position seeing as that was Germany’s stance up until a few weeks ago).

The rising right. Like the presidential victory of Donald Trump in 2016, a Le Pen win would show the strength of right-wing leaders globally and give Europe’s odd ones out—Poland and Hungary—a major champion. (The ideological connections have their own trans-Atlantic flavor: The usually U.S.-based Conservative Political Action Conference will hold its May conference in Budapest, Hungary, with Orban as keynote speaker.)

But as with almost everything, the war in Ukraine has upended old dynamics on the European right. Le Pen may still find common ground with Orban, but in Poland, it will be a different story. “It will be difficult for Le Pen to find an ally in Warsaw. The invasion has changed all that,” Quencez added.

No matter how large the alliance, Le Pen’s arrival at the Élysée Palace would be valuable for authoritarians outside the EU. “From Putin’s point of view, from [Chinese President] Xi Jinping’s point of view, having this kind of leader might be good news,” Le Corre said. “Putin’s been working to destabilize Europe for the past 10 years or so. Anything would do.”

But can she win? With polls currently predicting a narrow Macron win, Le Pen has a complicated route to victory. Much will depend on the disposition of Mélenchon voters, who, according to a recent poll, would mostly rather not vote at all in the second round; 44 percent say they plan to abstain, 33 percent say they will vote for Macron, and the remaining 23 percent will go for Le Pen. Macron has already begun the courtship by softening his positions on retirement reform.

By focusing so much of his campaign to date on foreign policy in a bid to demonize Le Pen’s links with Putin, Macron may himself be showing some naiveté and keeping opportunities open for the right-wing leader. “Im personally a bit concerned by the fact that the Macron campaign is so focused on foreign policy right now,” Quencez said. “They thought the connection between Le Pen and Putin would be enough to make him the only credible candidate. But look at the polls: The priority for French voters is inflation. It’s rising prices.”


What We’re Following Today 

Biden accuses Putin of genocide. U.S. President Joe Biden continued his verbal attacks on Putin, accusing the Russian leader of committing genocide by invading Ukraine. Biden, who has called Putin a “war criminal” and “killer” in the past, originally made the comment in relation to the rising cost of living in the United States: “Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank—none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide half a world away.”

He did not wait for his press team to clarify his comments, explaining himself later in the day. “I called it genocide because it has become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of being able to be Ukrainian, and the evidence is mounting,” Biden said.

“We’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me.”

Ukraine’s impact on food. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres will join the launch of a new U.N. report highlighting the global impact of the war in Ukraine in the areas of food, energy, and finance. The report comes as the World Trade Organization and World Bank on Tuesday warned of declining GDP and trade growth this year as a result of the war.

On the food front, all may not be so apocalyptic, Sarah Taber writes in Foreign Policy. Although Ukraine and Russia account for nearly a third of global wheat exports, they only make up 0.9 percent of global wheat production, meaning price spikes are almost certainly anxiety driven. “The situation calls for math and common sense,” Taber writes. “But instead, wealthy countries have panicked.”


Keep an Eye On

U.S. East Africa policy. David Satterfield, the U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa, is set to leave his post just a few months into the job. FP colleagues Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer broke the news first, warning that his departure opens a “diplomatic void in a region that is confronting rising political instability, mass atrocities, and the threat of famine.”


Odds and Ends

One of Brazil’s most popular newspapers was forced into a hasty retraction after it accidentally announced the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who (at the time of writing) is still very much alive. Using placeholder text any writer would recognize, the Folha de S.Paulo said the queen had died “as a result of XXXXXXXX.”

“It is normal practice in journalism to prepare stories about possible and/or probable situations, such as the death of world leaders, celebrities and public figures. Folha regrets the error,” the newspaper said.

After contracting the coronavirus in February, the British monarch made her first public comments about her battle with the disease last Monday, saying it leaves “one feeling very tired and exhausted.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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