24 April 2012

The liberation of Europe -- France leads the way

Here are the results of the first round of voting in the French Presidential election on Sunday the 22nd:

François Hollande (Socialist):  28.6%
Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP/conservative):  27.2%
Marine Le Pen (Front National):  17.9%
Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FDG/far left):  11.1%

(Six other candidates divided the rest of the vote.)

As expected, Hollande and the incumbent Sarkozy will advance to the run-off on May 6, and polls show Hollande winning easily to become France's first Socialist President in 17 years.  The surprises came with the third- and fourth-place finishers.  Mélenchon did substantially worse than the polls anticipated, while Le Pen did better, winning the FN's best-ever result.

Hollande's win expresses voters' frustration with economic stagnation and the austerity policies which have exacerbated it (background here and here).  Europeans in general are unhappy with austerity. In most countries unemployment is already much higher than in the US, and austerity is making things worse. Also, in most countries (though not France) austerity has been imposed at the behest of the EU, regardless of what elected national governments and their voters want.  France, however, is too large (the second most important country in the EU, in fact) to be bossed around in such a manner.

It's Le Pen's high score that has the media in a lather, but be cautious about the knee-jerk designation of the FN as "far right". In the days of her father, that was a fair description. Now, though, the party has ditched much of its radical platform and in fact sounds quite leftist in most ways -- its economic position is paternalist and protectionist to a degree US Democrats would never dare, for example. It's true that it is highly nationalist and anti-immigration, but in Europe immigration largely means Muslims, the less-assimilated among whom are Europe's equivalent of our Christian Right (in Europe's secular societies, Islamists are the chief proponents of creationism in the schools, anti-gay discrimination, anti-Semitism, etc.). It's not really comparable to the immigration issue in the US.

Sarkozy is the odd one out among the four candidates, with his support of failed free-market economic dogmas which have never been popular in France. My guess is, many of Le Pen's voters will easily go for Hollande in the second round.

At almost the same time, the coalition government in the Netherlands splintered because Geert Wilders's Freedom party rebelled against austerity policies.  His party, which is anti-immigration and anti-Islam, is routinely tarred as "far right" in the media as the French FN is; however, Wilders was taking a stand against cuts to the social safety net mandated by the EU.  As the Islamists are Europe's closest equivalent to our Christian Right, so the EU is its nearest equivalent to American economic conservatives.

The architects and proponents of the EU and its austerity-mania can scowl and fume, but the liberation of Europe is under way.


Blogger Joe Markowitz said...

What will Angela Merkel do without her partner? I could see Germany becoming more isolated and refusing to bail out Europe. I could also see them succumbing to popular pressure and easing up a bit.

Logically the US should bail out Europe. We can borrow hundreds of billions at practically zero interest and loan it to Europe at 4 or 5% and make a killing, while saving Europe at the same time. But unfortunately that would be politically impossible here.

24 April, 2012 09:16  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Merkel may not need to worry about that problem for very long -- Germany's next national election will be in 2013 and she will almost certainly follow Sarkozy into defeat.

Unfortunately "bail-outs" in the form of loans are not true bail-outs since they must be paid back eventually and thus add to the weak countries' debt. If they weren't saddled with the euro, they could pursue devaluation to boost exports; if they weren't under EU hegemony they could pursue Keynesian stimulus policies (as Hollande intends to do) and get growth going again. The latter would also involve running up more debt, but at least it would actually do some good -- and not at the expense of the German (or American) taxpayer.

24 April, 2012 09:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wilders has lost a huge part of his followers after his pathetic explanation why he left the budget talks after it was practically completed. Not one single party will be willing to deal with them after the next election and most other parties think it's logical that huge cuts in the budget are necessary. There are some -like the socialist party- who would like a smaller amount in the budget cuts.
Wilders is seen by most in the Netherlands as a shock politician (who told the VVD and CDA, "I don't care what the population thinks" during the budget talks) who is left on many issues, but anti many things which are obviously more right wing.

25 April, 2012 06:19  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ms. Onymous: Your comment is a bit confusing, but Wilders said, "This was a package that would damage our economy over coming years and increase unemployment", and also cited "the attack on our elderly", while repeatedly pointing out that all this was being done under at the behest of foreign interlopers. That's an explanation, which seems far from "pathetic", for why he broke off discussions after it became clear that those discussions could not stop the cuts from happening.

As for whether he's lost a lot of his followers and whether the Dutch are indeed as blind to the madness of austerity under the current conditions as you say they are, well, the next election will show us.

25 April, 2012 07:54  
Anonymous NickM said...

I think the rise of the FN is nowhere near as benign as you think. I also think your comparison of the US Christian Right with European Islam is off beam. For starters the US Christian Right when they aren't raising Cain over gay marriage or abortion* tend towards economic conservatism and the EU Muslims tend towards a form of socialist thinking. Consider the recent election victory of George Galloway.

*You'd think those two self-cancelling ;-)

28 April, 2012 04:32  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Some major US Christian Right figures, such as Huckabee and even Santorum, are big-government types in the economic sphere. More to the point, for both US Christian and European Muslim theocrats, economics is very secondary to their self-definition, while hostility to gays, to abortion, to modern science, to women's independence, and to religions other than their own is central. They're closely parallel in the ways that they themselves consider important, and in the kinds of things they're trying to do in their respective societies.

I can't respond to your reasons for disagreeing about the FN, since you don't give any, but I will say that I don't necessarily consider them "benign". However, Europe has much bigger and more immediate problems. The EU, austerity policies, and Muslim immigration are doing serious and immediate damage; they need to be stopped and reversed as fast as possible. If mainstream parties had paid serious attention to voters' concerns about those things, they wouldn't have driven those voters into the arms of upstart parties like the FN.

28 April, 2012 04:44  
Blogger Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

1. The KOS equation, Christian right = Taliban, is silly and even fundamentally dishonest propaganda. At their worst the American clericalists would undo the sexual revolution and restore American law and custom to its condition of around 1950. Repressive nearly to the point of insanity, yes. But far different from the violence, intolerance, patriarchy, and cruelty typical of Islam.

2. Le Pen pere was an anti-Semite and Catholic thickhead of a very French, very old fashioned type. But his daughter is quite different and I think you are right that the anti-Islamist, anti-immigration parties of Europe as a whole are moving toward the left on the money issues as they become more nationalist about economics in line with their original nationalism with regard to immigration and with regard to sovereignty in opposition to the EU.

3. As that happens, immigration is seen as an economic as well as a racial, cultural, and political issue alongside trade policy, with the same people increasingly being for or against both immigration and free (or fair, which is not much different in domestic effects) trade. That is, the cosmopolitan left and the neoliberal right are for both while the nationalist left is against both.

4. Though the better known free trade right wing anti-immigrant outlook in Europe seems to be turning this way, as you note, that doesn’t seem to be happening at all in America where it seems no part of the left would touch either working class protectionism or opposition to immigration with a ten foot pole and the cosmo-left does nothing to help as the neoliberal right goes on a rampage of union-crushing.

28 April, 2012 06:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

GSG: 1 -- I think you haven't been paying close attention. The Dominionist and Reconstructionist wings of the US Christian Right want to impose the Biblical death penalty for things like homosexuality and adultery, right here in the 21st-century US. It's hard to see how other fundies could truly repudiate that ambition; it follows inexorably from the sacred text. There has already been terrorist violence against abortion doctors and clinics. In any case, a difference of degree doesn't negate the broad similarity in roles between the Christian Right in the US and the Islamists in Europe.

2 -- No disagreement there.

3 -- Both Muslim immigration and free-trade, laissez-faire economic dogma have been harmful to the nations of Europe, so it's hardly surprising that nationalists oppose both.

4 -- Too true. Too much of the left in the US has become completely estranged from its working-class and union roots. This is why we desperately need the union voice within the left -- they are the only real force that speaks for that constituency. While esoterica like OWS and the various ideological purists constantly threaten to fly off into orbit around Pluto, the unions are the best hope we have for keeping the left grounded in reality and actually getting things done.

28 April, 2012 16:00  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

PS: Don't forget that my readership consists largely of US liberals who lack a detailed knowledge of Islam in Europe. When they hear that European Muslims are mostly immigrants from the Third World (or descendants thereof), they tend to reflexively identify them with minority immigrants in the US and apply the same racism/discrimination paradigm to them. Pointing out that un-assimilated Islamists in Europe actually represent a threat to liberal values analogous to the more familiar Christian Right threat in the US is the most straightforward way of correcting this misunderstanding -- even if the Islamists are, in some ways, even more extremist.

28 April, 2012 16:33  
Blogger Marc McDonald said...

Good post. I've been reading for years about how the Left's policies (such as those of Mitterrand) have supposedly wrecked the economy of France.
When I traveled to France a couple of years ago, I expected to see a nation struggling with a terrible economy, based on what I've read in the U.S. corporate media.
What I saw instead surprised me.
The France I saw was actually quite prosperous.
Ordinary French working people seem to have it better than ordinary U.S. workers.
Whereas here in the U.S. I personally know several people struggling to pay their medical bills, I saw nothing of the sort in France.
French people still seem to know how to enjoy life. They enjoy leisure. In August, the whole nation shuts down and everyone goes on vacation.
By contrast, I worked for various private sector employers in the U.S. for decades and never got more than a week or two of vacation (and oftentimes, I had to use that time for sick days).
Americans wouldn't know leisure if it ran over them on the highway.
Of course, France isn't a utopia (no nation is). And indeed, there are aspects of America that I suppose are superior. A lot of French people are cynical and world-weary. There's little of the U.S. style sunny optimism. If you walk around Paris with a big smile on your face, people will think you're an idiot.
On the other hand, I'm a bit of a world-weary cynic myself, so I fit right in over there. :)

08 January, 2013 01:01  

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