With two convinced Eurosceptics and an equally fervent pro-European among the four contenders with a chance of reaching the run-off, France’s too-tight-to-call presidential election could conceivably break – or make – the EU.
European officials and diplomats appear generally unconvinced that France, a core member of the bloc, will actually leave – an idea touted, not always forcefully, by the hard-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen.
More worrying, and perhaps more likely, is the prospect of Paris turning its back. The EU would not survive Frexit, though “that seems quite remote”, said one senior diplomat. “But active inside opposition would almost be worse.”
Battered by Brexit and facing a range of other problems including an unresolved migrant crisis, slow economic growth and a clutch of increasingly rebellious capitals, the EU could badly do with some good news.
A victory for Emmanuel Macron, the liberal, overtly pro-EU centrist who, polls predict, will win if he is one of the two second round finalists, would offer France a chance to reform, and Europe a chance to rebound.