Connecticut Companies Eye Momentous French Elections

Apr 10, 2017

The first round of the French elections takes place April 23, a vote that’s expected to be momentous for Europe. It might seem a long way away, but the outcome might also be very important to Connecticut. 

The front runners in France’s elections for a new president are Emmanuel Macron -- an ardent European -- and Marine Le Pen, a Trump-style populist who has vowed to pull France out of the European Union.

“And in a way we could almost say, this is going to be the referendum of the French on the EU,” said Dr Claude Chereau. A native of France, she now teaches and researches on international trade and business at the University of New Haven.

Chereau said that "Frexit" -- particularly following Brexit -- would spell the end for the Union, one of the world’s great stabilizing forces since the end of World War II.

“This movement of populist parties basically is rattling the global economy,” she said.

The reason Connecticut should care about the fate of the European Union: France is actually the state’s largest trading partner, last year accounting for $1.9 billion worth of goods sold, with Germany just behind at $1.6 billion.

The Nutmeg State’s principal exports are aerospace parts, medical devices, and financial services.

Dr. Claude Chereau of the University of New Haven.
Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR
Credit International Trade Administration

Chereau said a reimposition of trade barriers between the U.S. and Europe would radically change the landscape.

“If we put barriers -- we don’t want product from the EU, what is the EU going to do -- put barriers against our product,” she said.

If the EU seems on the point of collapse, the dollar will strengthen against the Euro, hitting exporters hard as they try to sell goods overseas.

Chereau also believes it would likely trigger a crisis of confidence in the markets, and potentially a global recession.

"Markets function well when they have confidence, right?" she said. "If there is a crisis like that, no one is going to know what to do."

France will go through two rounds of voting in its elections; whether LePen, Macron, or another candidate wins out will be clear by May 7.

One potential spark of optimism for supporters of European integration: even if Le Pen wins, she doesn't have a completely free hand. 

"It is clearly written in the constitution that France is part of the European Union. So she -- even if she is elected, she would have had to have the parliament to initiate the change of the constitution," said Chereau.