This Sunday, the people of France will head to the polls to elect a new president. I have been following the election, though not as closely as I might have liked, given all the other issues that occupy my mind and time these days. Though there are eleven candidates in the running, it seems clear that the results of the first round will come down to four: Marine LePen, François Fillon, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Emmanuel Macron.
Now, caught up as we are in our own Trumpian-drama here in the U.S., some might ask why the French election matters to us. The simple answer is that this election may be the deciding factor in whether the EU survives the remainder of this decade. Whether you like the concept of globalization or not, it is a fact of life, it is here to stay, and the peoples of this earth are connected … what happens in France affects the U.S., and vice versa. So let us take just a few minutes to examine the election and the candidates, and what the results might mean, not only for France, but for the world. France is the world’s sixth-largest economy, is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and is a nuclear-armed power. It is also one of the U.S.’ oldest and most reliable allies. So yes, what happens in Sunday’s election matters to the U.S.
With eleven candidates in the running, it is highly unlikely that any will earn a majority of more than 50%, which means the top two candidates will be in a runoff election on 07 May. Let us take a quick look at the two who are expected to score the highest:
- Marine LePen – is rather a female version of Donald Trump, anti-immigration and promising to ‘make the country safer’ and also ‘more French’. She is a far-right conservative who inherited the leadership of the National Front Party from its founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is known for his anti-Semitic views. For many, she is the candidate of pessimism, the choice of “unhappy France”, focusing on long-term high unemployment rates and the problems associated with immigration and the refugee crisis. A terrorist attack in Paris that killed one police officer on Thursday may also bolster Le Pen on Sunday, and one has to wonder if … well, I leave it at that.
Le Pen’s platform includes promises of radical, jarring change that starts with rewriting the constitution; enforcing the principle of ‘national preference’ for French citizens in hiring as well as the dispensing of housing and benefits; reinstating the franc as the national currency rather than the euro, pulling out of NATO’s integrated command structure; and slashing immigration to one-tenth of its current annual level. In addition, she proposes to hold a ‘Brexit-like’ vote to remove France from the European Union (EU).
Yet while Le Pen has many ideas for the future of France, she has few plans for how to implement them. If she does win the final vote, some say France should prepare for an administration defined by “constant crisis,” paralysis, and brutal economic blowback. Sound familiar?
- Emmanuel Macron – is an independent centrist and the founder of the progressive En Marche! (On the Move!) party. He has been dubbed by some the “French Obama”, due to his charismatic style. Although Macron appears to be slightly leading the pack, his roles as an official in the Hollande government and as an investment banker have led to attacks that he is an elite globalist, deeply entrenched within the status quo. He is viewed as a centrist who wouldn’t radically alter the status quo.
Macron’s platform includes exiting the coal industry and focusing on renewable energy sources, job training, a reduction in the unemployment rate, reductions in corporate income tax rates, flexibility of labour laws, education reform and federal spending cuts.
Though Sunday’s results are largely anticipated to end in a runoff between LePen and Macron, it is worth a brief glance at the other two leading contenders who are not far behind in the polls:
- François Fillon – represents the center-right Republican Party. Although Fillon led early polls, his popularity sunk amid corruption allegations. He refused to withdraw his candidacy despite calls from figures in his own party demanding he move aside. Fillon, seeing the potency of LePen’s platform among frustrated French voters, has taken an increasingly firm stance on the threat of importing terrorism — a move that could steal votes from Le Pen.
- Jean-Luc Mélenchon – is the radical far-left creator of the France Unbowed movement. Often compared to former progressive presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Mélenchon fights for economic socialism, higher taxes on rich French, and an increased scope for government programs.
Around the globe, the ‘populist’ or ‘nationalist’ movement is gaining momentum. Its two wins thus far have been Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Both Austria and the Netherlands have rejected populist candidates Norbert Hofer and Geert Wilders. How France will vote remains to be seen, but the main fear is that if LePen wins the election, the changes will lead to chaos, not only for France, but for the European continent and the U.S. as well. We have seen the chaos created by both Brexit and Trump, and my hope is that the French will look at the UK and US and decide to reject the far-right, sticking with a more moderate candidate.
On Thursday, France suffered a terrorist attack whereby one police officer was killed and two others wounded. Daesh quickly claimed responsibility. It is interesting timing, coming just three days before the election, and leads to a few questions, since LePen is, similar to Trump last year and Wilders earlier this year, advocating a ban of Muslims and strong anti-terrorist measures, and an attack so close to election day may enable fear to influence the votes of some. I will leave the questions to your imaginations. The Guardian published an editorial titled The Guardian view on the French presidency: hope not hate, calling for voters to keep a cool head, not letting Thursday’s attack influence their vote.
The issues facing the candidates in France’s election are far more complex than I can cover here, and the candidates far more in depth, but I have tried to summarize briefly. The election will certainly be worth watching, even for those who have no vested interest, but rather an indirect one.