21 April 2017

The French election

My recent post on Brexit ended with the following observation:

Change is coming in Europe -- the question is whether the moderate political establishment will accommodate it or be swept away by it.  If that establishment continues to ignore the popular will on issues like austerity, immigration, and interference with national sovereignty, eventually Europe's exasperated voters will start electing people like Nigel Farage (who, though he deserves much kudos for leading the independence movement to victory, is basically a crank otherwise), or worse, to positions of national leadership.  This would pose some of the same kinds of dangers as the rise of Trump in the US.  By accommodating change despite their personal misgivings, Cameron and May have greatly reduced this risk, at least in the UK.  Other countries will soon face similar tests.

This Sunday, France will face that test, as it holds its Presidential election.  In the French system, if no one candidate wins an absolute majority in this first round of voting, a run-off is held between just the top two vote-getters (a wise system, I might add, since it filters out the effect of voters wasting their votes on minor candidates).  The most controversial candidate, who is very likely to be one of the top two and thus make it to the run-off, is Marine Le Pen of the National Front.

The National Front was founded by Marine's father Jean-Marie Le Pen, during whose leadership it genuinely deserved the epithet "far-right" which is so casually (and often inaccurately) bestowed on all European political elements which oppose the European Union and high immigration.  Since Marine took over in 2011, the party has moderated, abandoning its former doctrinaire-Catholic and anti-Semitic stances to focus on issues which actually appeal to the average French voter, such as limiting immigration, abandoning the euro common currency, and generally re-asserting national sovereignty.  It has thus established itself as a major and serious political force.

Earlier in Marine Le Pen's career I hoped that she would indeed be elected President someday, but I can no longer do so.  Her recent alignment with Putin and support for Trump shows a dangerous lack of commitment to democracy and Western values, while her call to reverse the legalization of gay marriage (in one of the world's most secular and tolerant nations) is reactionary and, ironically, aligns her with the Islamists who are the main remaining anti-gay political force in western Europe.  Like Nigel Farage in Britain, she is right on her signature issues, but dangerously wrong in other areas.

According to polls, the other candidate most likely to make it to the run-off is Emmanuel Macron, a man without prior political experience who describes himself as "neither right nor left", though his support comes primarily from the left.  He's also the most pro-EU candidate.  Two others with a chance to reach the run-off against Le Pen are François Fillon, offering a standard right-wing program of tax cuts, longer working hours, and reduction of government; and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose platform mixes strongly-progressive economic and environmental policies with nationalist elements such as asserting French independence and strong criticism of the EU (hardly a surprising combination, since the EU's disastrous austerity policies should arouse the opposition of any true socialist).  Polling strongly suggests that whichever one of these three makes it to the run-off against Le Pen will defeat her and become President.

If I were French, the choice would be easy -- Mélenchon.  But from an objective viewpoint, who ultimately wins may matter less than how well Le Pen does.

In Britain, Farage never got close to becoming Prime Minister, but the movement he led ultimately forced the issue.  David Cameron was a mainstream, pro-EU politician, but when he ran for re-election in 2015, he promised a referendum on the EU; and after winning, he kept his promise.  The British people thus got the benefit of Farage's activism without the dangers of having Farage as national leader.  The best outcome for the French would be the same.  So the best outcome of Sunday's vote, and of the near-inevitable run-off on May 7, would be for Le Pen to do as well as possible without actually winning.  The more strongly popular discontent expresses itself, the more likely it is that the winner will feel forced to address it, as Cameron did.

Mélenchon is fourth in the polls, but has been rising steadily since mid-March.  Fillon, who most resembles a US Republican (though without the religious wingnuttery) is third, but has been damaged by a nepotism scandal.  Macron is the most likely winner, but even he might be swayed to consider a "Frexit" referendum if the popular will asserts itself forcefully enough.

One point Americans might appreciate -- France has no equivalent of the Electoral College to muddy the waters.


Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Good read ... it is interesting to me how this will go (even though I'm American Texan) but my reasons are global I guess, more than just one country. Yep, been following Le Pen, I dont like much about her though ... she also been called a racist alot, of course by left folks ... my issue with her isnt about race ... it's about having a strong "peoples" France as a "partner", and to set an example of what needs to be challenged in this neoliberal era. I'm myself strongly in favour of Melenchon (especially if I was a voting French citizen). I'm liberal and even socialist on some issues (depends on the issue ... I actually consider myself as conservative on spending and defense, even though I'm for social programmes, but that's a little complex for here), so like him, I'm independent. My reason for supporting those who are considered left wing extremists, is because of what we on a global level (especially our democracy type countries in the west) are up against (these are NOT normal easy going challenges we face ... these times are "extreme", which need more extreme measures), as you know. I been watching this neoliberalism move for awhile, this is a strong force of change, especially economic change and sovereignty rights, even immigration. The reason is because what the oligarchs (if I can call them that) that have ratholed our economies and assets, and what their blueprint for this new change is. I mean, to me Infidel ... this half ass moderate stuff dont cut it very well in "these" times ... maybe in another time it would be fine, because it has been weak against the EU, austerity and these oligarchs ... the trade deals suck, the austerity sux, driving every damn free country to bankruptcy damn near sux, regulatory and environmental policies sux, etc, etc ... I mean, you know what's goin on. No doubt the big money has the advantage and are going to be key players in any transition because of their money, and they know that. But that doesnt mean that everyone should just bend over or meet them halfway by giving them a free bottle of lube. The masses/ people make this all happen and are a major "asset" to economies/ trade/ capitalism, etc as well ... REAL bargaining checks and balances need to be done, and all we been seeing alot more of ... is one- way street policies. France dont have the "electoral college" ... oh my god! how will they do it!!?? (just kidding ... I dont like the goddamn EC anywayz in these times {:-)

22 April, 2017 07:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: France's current President, Hollande, is also a socialist, but he hasn't been able to get much done in the face of the EU's deranged Republican-style economic policies. Apparently Mélenchon realizes it's time to take a tougher line and challenge the problem directly. If he wins, I expect the dam to burst and left-wing opposition to the EU to erupt from Greece to Portugal.

22 April, 2017 08:06  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Very interesting read. I emailed our French friends the other day -- they are in their mid 40s with one child, both of them professionals -- a physician and a research veterinarian. I knew they were not supportive at all of Le Pen, but the wife wrote back that she was more afraid of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. I'd not heard about him, so I didn't know why she and her husband would be against him. She didn't say whom they would support. They are going to call here sometime today. I'll be interested to know more about why they are frightened of Mélenchon.

22 April, 2017 08:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: Thanks. It would be interesting to know why they don't like Mélenchon, though of course any politician will have some serious detractors. The media seem to be depicting him him and Le Pen as similar "extremists", perhaps because he represents too blunt of a threat to the dominance of the wealthy.

23 April, 2017 02:01  

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