|Author (Person)||Coss, Simon|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.8, No.17, 2.5.02, p15|
JEAN-MARIE Le Pen's plans to pull France out of the European Union if he is elected President would spell 'the death of France', the leader of the country's biggest small business lobby told European Voice.
Jacques Freidel, who heads the influential Confédération Générale des Petites et Moyennes Entreprises, made the comments after it emerged that nearly a third of the support for Le Pen's National Front in the first round of the presidential voting came from France's small-business owners, shopkeepers and artisans.
'Unemployment would rise along with poverty levels. It would be the death of France,' Freidel said when asked what he thought of Le Pen's policy on Europe.
The National Front itself dismissed Freidel's analysis out of hand.
Jean-Michel Dubois, a senior party official who is both an elected member of the regional council in Ile-de-France and president of openly pro-Front small business lobby the Féderation Nationale Entreprise Moderne et Libertés, said: 'When it comes to the heads of small businesses and shopkeepers, we have a large majority who are with us.
'Since last Sunday we have received sacks of mail from small-business leaders asking to join our organisation,' he boasted.
Dubois argued that Le Pen's Europe policy appeals to SMEs because it would protect French small businesses from the unhindered competition represented by the single market and, in a wider context, the 'ultra-liberal' globalisation of world trade.
He also dismissed comments made this week by Ernest Antoine Sellière, the head of France's main big business lobby, MEDEF.
Sellière said Le Pen's European and economic policies, if implemented, 'would provoke a profound economic regression, a steep rise in unemployment, a financial crisis without precedent, rising inflation, the impoverishment of everyone and explosive social tensions'.
But Dubois was unmoved. 'He's talking rubbish and, anyway, he only represents big businesses - he doesn't represent SMEs,' he said. Freidel argued that the National Front's strong showing among SME leaders proved that many small-time businesses in France fear they will be left by the wayside in today's fast developing supra-national economy, both within the EU and worldwide.
But he insisted that it was the job of organisations like his to show that Europe offered huge opportunities for small firms. 'I have my own firm and I'm very glad the European Union exists, because without European markets I would have gone out of business by now. The French market alone simply isn't big enough,' he said.
He also insisted the arrival of the euro was a major boost for the Union's small firms. 'This new baby is superb,' he said.
Le Pen's plan to reintroduce the franc or possibly have it circulating alongside the euro in France would create huge problems for small firms, he added.
But despite Freidel's comments, the fact remains that a large section of the small business community, not just in France but across the Union, regularly supports extreme-right protectionist parties.
'Small business owners all over Europe are voting extreme right in higher than average numbers. We saw in Austria with Jörg Haider for example,' argued Gerhard Huemer, an Austrian economic policy expert with Brussels-based small-business lobby the European Association of Craft, Small & Medium-sized Enterprises.
'I wasn't surprised by the French vote,' Huemer added. 'These are symptoms of people who are scared about their future.'
Jean-Marie Le Pen's plans to pull France out of the European Union if he is elected President would spell 'the death of France', according to Jacques Freidel, head of the Confédération Générale des Petites et Moyennes Entreprises.
|Countries / Regions||France|