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By Brian Love
PARIS, March 31 (Reuters) - If French voters do not want to leave the euro, Marine Le Pen’s National Front party will not force them to should she become president in May, the party’s secretary general said on Friday.
“It’s not the be-all and end-all of our programme,” Nicolas Bay said in a radio interview. “We will put it to a referendum. We will not impose anything on the people. If the French want to keep the euro they will keep it,” he told RTL.
Le Pen, tipped by opinion polls to face staunchly pro-common currency candidate Emmanuel Macron in the presidential runoff vote on May 7, has said she would resign from the presidency if voters subsequently rejected proposals she puts to them via a referendum.
“What do you expect me to do? I’d leave,” she told guests of the business federation Ethic at a March 7 gathering in Paris.
“I can’t deliver on an entire programme if we do not have the means and the leverage to do so.”
A majority of National Front supporters opposes the euro but 72 percent of the overall French electorate do not want to revert to the franc, an Ipsos poll published this month said.
The euro replaced national currencies in everyday usage in 2002 across the euro zone, which spans 19 of the 28 countries in the European Union.
All opinion polls to date predict a heavy Le Pen defeat in the final two-way playoff, despite being more or less neck and neck with favourite Macron in the opening vote on April 23, where all but two of the 11 contenders will be eliminated.
Le Pen told Le Parisien newspaper in an interview published on March 26 that there would be no big-bang exit from the euro if she won power.
She said that she would hold a referendum on Europe after six months of negotiations with the rest of the European Union on a range of issues including leaving the border-free Schengen agreement and transforming the EU into a looser cooperative of nations.
Talks on the euro currency would come at the end of those negotiations, she said.
“Within the negotiation calendar I want to pursue ... the euro would be the last step because I want to wait for the outcome of elections in Germany in the fall (autumn) before renegotiating it,” she told the newspaper.
If France were to revert to using its own currency, the cost would be huge, in large part because of French banks’ debts abroad, French economics think-tank CEPII said in a study on Thursday.
It calculated that French banks would see their debts to German creditors alone surge by 21.5 billion euros ($22.95 billion) in such a scenario. ($1 = 0.9367 euros) (Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Andrew Callus)