French Exit From Eurozone Is Unlikely, Finance Minister Says

By Tom Fairless Features Dow Jones Newswires

A French exit from the eurozone would be unpopular among French voters and near-impossible for any future president to pull off, France's finance minister, Michel Sapin, said in an interview.

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French citizens will to head to the polls Sunday for the most tense presidential election in decades. Two of the favorites -- National Front candidate Marine Le Pen and far-left contender Jean-Luc Mélenchon -- have cast doubt on France's place in the European Union and the single currency. Both could potentially make the runoff round in two weeks' time, where the two most popular candidates are likely to face off.

Speaking on the sidelines of a summit of global economic leaders, Mr. Sapin said the chances of "Frexit" are remote.

"In life everything is possible, even the most stupid things," the minister said. "But if there's one thing the French are attached to, it's the euro. I don't understand why some have tried to make this into a hobbyhorse."

Nevertheless, French authorities have undertaken precautions to protect

against any fallout from Sunday's vote in financial markets, as any

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government would, the minister said.

Ms. Le Pen, who is expected to reach the runoff round, has pledged to hold a referendum on whether to leave the EU and hence the eurozone. A poll published last month suggested that almost three-quarters of French people would oppose a return to the franc.

Any future French president would require support from parliament to enact the plans, even something like holding a referendum, Mr. Sapin said. None of the leading candidates is attached to a major political party, and Ms. Le Pen in particular is expected to struggle to win support in parliament if she wins. French voters will elect a new legislature in June.

"Even if the worst happens -- the election of an extreme candidate of the right or left -- it won't change the reality of the exercise of power," Mr. Sapin said. "I really don't see how the extreme [candidates] could have a majority in parliament. It's absolutely not possible."

The French election has cast a pall over this week's meetings in Washington, distracting delegates from a brightening outlook for the global economy and questions over the future direction of U.S. policy.

Mr. Sapin said he had fielded many questions on the topic. "It's agreeable to feel that people care about what happens in France, that France is a country that counts," he said.

Turning to U.S. policy, Mr. Sapin said leaders were still waiting for the Trump administration to show its hand on issues such as global trade and regulation. In the meantime, he said, other countries were willing to speak in favor of international cooperation and commerce.

The EU would be willing to restart negotiations over a trans-Atlantic trade deal, Mr. Sapin said, "but we aren't supplicants today."

He also praised U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May's announcement that the nation would hold a general election in June.

"If Theresa May has a clear majority behind her, without being prisoner of certain extremists, I think it will be useful for a good negotiation" with other EU countries, he said.

Write to Tom Fairless at tom.fairless@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 22, 2017 20:17 ET (00:17 GMT)