Feature: The French Election
The Lead Up:
The runoff election between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen not only decides who is to reside in The Élysée Palace, but also if France will continue to reside alongside Germany as leaders of Europe.
The 2017 Election is drawing warranted comparisons to the election of 2002. That year, Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen, surprised the nation by reaching the 2nd electoral round for a showdown with President Jacques Chirac. It was the first time a far-right politician had gathered anything more than marginal support since WWII. The shock of a far-right candidate caused a flood of support to Chirac who won with a monumental 82 per cent.
While many, especially in the international community, hoped for a similar result, Marine Le Pen has proven to be a much better politician than her father, and the result will likely be a lot closer. Moreover, the far-right populist successes around the world provided a tense background for what was a typical contemporary election, a lesser-of-two-evils scenario. Indeed, to borrow a phrase from Dominic Thomas, professor of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA, like in 2002, the “French electorate is being morally blackmailed” to vote against Le Pen.
Emmanuel Macron sounds like a plain biscuit, and he’s about as appealing as one too. This is not to be taken as an insult; it merely suggests that despite his presence as an independent and his ideological ambiguity, he is still very much of the establishment.
The 39-year-old Macron is classified as an independent centrist. His swift, but by no means miraculous rise to prominence has come at the head of a ‘movement’ rather than a traditional party. The En Marche! (On The Move!) Movement has benefited firstly from Macron’s perhaps unusual, although nonetheless clean personal record. Although primarily, Macron’s movement has gained momentum through his conspicuous penchant for not being Marine Le Pen.
Macron has had a distinguished, which is to say lucrative, career as an investment banker. Moreover, he is a former (unelected) economy minister under current President Francois Hollande, a man so unpopular he wasn’t even willing to vote for himself.
In this sense many French citizens aren’t aware of what Macron stands for. It is not a dissimilar situation to the U.S. Election with a right-wing populist versing a rather plain and seemingly non-abrasive candidate. His lacking of any distinct ideology is actually the most refreshing of his characteristics. Macron described the ‘ideological straitjacket’ as being a poor prism to view politics in contemporary France. However, the French are used to distinct ideological prisms in which to view their politicians; these prisms work like a key to unlock all the person’s views. Some voters therefore, may have been deterred by an inability to categorize him.
However, his ideological ambiguity might actually prove to be an ally. In fact, James Cowley wrote in The New Statesman recently that Macron’s rarity is a strength – he is “a populist eruption from the liberal centre.” This rather stretches the definitional parameters of the term ‘populist.’ After all, what the French population are most concerned about is the economy and unemployment. The unemployment rate in France sits at approximately 10 per cent, more than double their leadership partner in the EU - Germany, and higher than the Eurozone average.
The rise of populism around the world has not been an accident; it is the inevitable backlash to the greedy funneling of capitalist rewards to an oligarchic minority. Their quarrel is legitimate; it is the patronization of their supporters through a mistaken juvenile adherence to shallow nationalism that threatens to disrupt the lives of the innocent, rather than the financial flows of the culpable. This is what makes them ideologically dangerous. Thus to say that an investment banker, who served as an economy minister in what could only be described as a failed economic administration, is a populist eruption against the establishment, is a fantasy.
Perhaps, as the political scientist Fabio Bordignon nebulously put it: “his populism can be seen as a case of soft populism, a homeopathic remedy to the hard populism expressed by his competitor [Le Pen]: an anti-populist populism.” As such, many of Macron’s policies are as oppositional to Le Pen as possible: Macron is pro-Europe, so much so in fact that jokes are made insinuating Macron having an Oedipus complex involving Angela Merkel.
Macron seeks closer integration between the Eurozone, but does advocate for the reform of the currency union, and the creation of a Eurozone budget. These however, are dovish caveats at best. On immigration, Macron wishes to welcome refugees and does not intend to close the borders. However, he is in favor of stricter immigration controls.
Macron has outlined plans for an economic stimulus package, while also promising to cut spending and slash the unemployment figure by 3 per cent. However, many in France still refer to him simply as, the ‘banker.’ Their suspicious intuitions are not without merit - the likelihood that Macron will be able to improve social equality with the traditional failed policies of past administrations is, to put it mildly, bon pas.
The French are likely to elect Macron because the buck has to stop somewhere. The Netherlands helped, but there is nothing the French like more than a moral high ground from which they can look down their noses at their British and American counterparts.
Marine Le Pen:
First things first: Marine Le Pen is no Trump; after all, she has an IQ she can count to. However, if Marine Le Pen were to win, unlikely as it is, it would be a real political earthquake, and that metaphor is used purposefully, as the reverberations of the event would leave houses across Europe in disrepair. The EU could not in any sense be recognizable to us without one of the two central states (France, Germany).
Le Pen has always been an outspoken critic of the EU. If elected, she has promised to distinctly change the relationship between France and the EU. Le Pen would require the EU to dispense with the border-free zone (Schengen Agreement) and EU law, or she would offer a “Brexit” style In/Out referendum on EU membership. This would require an alteration of the constitution however, and if that isn’t enough, her wish to pull out of the Euro would also require a referendum. If the French people decide to remain in the EU, Le Pen says she would step down.
Therefore, despite the doomsday scenario that is being used to morally blackmail the French people in this election, a Le Pen victory would see much of the work still ahead of her. It is hard to imagine that a Le Pen victory would not be met with a similar reaction to that which followed Brexit. Considering the subsequent votes that would have to be marshaled, it is comforting to know checks and balances ensure this election isn’t all encompassing.
Le Pen’s immigration policies are consistent with her stance on Europe. She would limit immigration, restore the country’ borders, and expel any foreign nationals being monitored by the intelligence services.
However, as stressed earlier, the economy and unemployment are the highest concern for many a French voter. Le Pen would cut income taxes on the poorest workers, simplify the tax code, and fight tax evasion. She wants to tax companies that hire immigrants over French workers, but wishes to cut payroll taxes to encourage hiring. Le Pen also argues for a new lower-value currency, the “nouveau franc” in an attempt to entice competition for French exports. However, the transferal of the national debt to a lower value currency would likely be viewed by French creditors as a default.
Although Le Pen has attempted to distance herself from the National Front (NF), which has been continually embroiled in controversy, her ties with Russia have not been veiled in the same way. In fact, last month Le Pen travelled to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin who has provided monetary, and cyber-crime assistance to her campaign. Putin has an invested interest in all the populist right movements popping up around the much-detested (by Putin) Eurozone. France and the EU, as well as being members of NATO, are also strong supporters of the sanctions on Russia.
The task for the French people in this election was to diminish the reactionary pull of shallow nationalism in the Western world. Unlike the Americans and the British, the French succeeded in that task. Exit polls have called the French Election in favor of Emmanuel Macron, who took around 65% of the vote.
The winning margin falls closely within the predictions of the pollsters. Of course, pollsters have not been particularly accurate in recent prominent elections, and it was this uncertainty that contributed much anxiety to the election. However, in the first round of elections the predictions were remarkably close as well, never outside the margin of error. Perhaps the real winner in this lesser-than-two-evils election was the pollsters themselves.
The election was not a landslide like that of 2002 of course; much of that can be attributed to the political supremacy of Marine Le Pen over her ignoble father. However, the French people did rally against Le Pen and let Europe and the World know they are not going to continue having this discussion with the unnecessarily petulant policies of the far-right.
Le Pen made every attempt at distancing herself from her father and the National Front. However, her transparent support from Moscow couldn’t have been similarly covered by mere political Band-Aids. After all, it remains the only element of truth in Hollywood action films that the Russians, especially ex-KGB, are best left alone.
It is important to note that the French made a difficult decision in this election. Globalization is the inevitable dilution of our historical and contextual mindsets with those of others. This clash understandably causes anxiety and considerable growing pains. In spite of such extenuating circumstances, our societies’ dependable menagerie of maladies persist in their need of immediate attention. This particularly volatile combination is assured to bring about reaction - indeed, such rapid dilution does need to be checked.
Our species is speeding into the 21st century with our foot to the floor and only the dimmest of headlights. However, the regressive nationalism of far-right populism is not the cautious, intelligent and thoughtful change of tack required to navigate the inexorable tides of history. Of course, the blinkered ‘everything always turns out great for us’ gung-ho stewardship of the establishment is not working either. Unfortunately, the untenable retrogressive desires of the far-right have hijacked the discussion and weaponized what are predominantly abstract anxieties. Their proposed alternative is to reverse, an impossibility; therefore, they are wasting all our time.
Macron’s victory in the French election is not the solution to our contemporary troubles, or a seamless cure to our growing pains. It is however, a reasoned and audible gavel in the cacophony of infantile squabbling that has assumed control of our course.