OVERSEEING THE FRENCH ELECTIONS
Note: This article reflects my personal opinions related to French politics and the elections.
In the past months, populism has been at its best: between the Brexit in the UK and the election of Trump in the US, fear started filling minds. As the French elections were coming closer, my German landlords started expressing what they ironically coined at “German Angst”, a mix of fear and anxiety. They were startled by the high scores of Marine Lepen in the polls and started believing that France was next. I sat for hours in the kitchen, trying to explain the French election system and its differences with the American one, while they would remind of the Weimar Republic. “France cannot tilt. If France does, then the EU is done.”, the wife would tell me, telling me that we had to be “responsible” for the rest of Europe. It became difficult for me to face the topic, as I felt that she was not listening to my explanations. “What good is there studying in an Institute for Political Science if, in the end, everyone has a strong opinion about politics and your knowledge about the political system and its leverage goes down the drain?”, I wondered, a bit annoyed, frustrated and hurt that she would ignore my prognostics.
And what were my prognostics?
- The Socialist Party was done: Manuel Valls had decided not to respect the results of the primaries and did not endorse Benoît Hamon. The latter embodied the left-side of the Socialist Party, proposing important reforms (universal income, shut down of nuclear power plants and investment in green energies, etc.), but I felt that, in a way, it was too early to make such propositions. People did not feel that his Keynesian measures would be implemented, as they required an incredible financial effort. To which we would add fight against the nuclear village, fight against neoliberal international institutions and corporations, etc. He was not on the right track to begin with, even though he was endorsed by our current superstar, the economist Thomas Piketty. So, no Socialist Party.
- The Conservative Party (Les Républicains) was caught up in a scandal thanks to its leader, François Fillon, the herald of the Christian (anti-gay rights/anti-abortion) community, known as the “Manif pour tous” (Demonstration for All, an obviously misleading name). So, no Républicains.
- Jean-Luc Mélenchon: originally part of the Socialist Party, he left a few years ago to join the Front de Gauche (Leftist Front) and presented himself in 2017 as an independent candidate. Many of his ideas were closed to the Socialist Party’s and some hoped for the two candidates to join forces, in order to block the road to the right wing parties, and especially to Marine Lepen. Certainly because of a reluctance to hold the Socialist Party’s hand, he refused to accept the offer from Benoît Hamon. He ended up with a fair score, but no Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
During the first round of the elections, the candidates above were eliminated, as two other candidates arrived first and second:
- Le Front National : the now sadly famous party led by Marine Lepen is a legacy from her (racist/sexist/antisemitic) father, Jean-Marie Lepen. She kicked her father out of the party a few years ago, as he was voicing negationist ideas. She then became the head of the party and, thanks to her oratory skills and her image (relatively young, feminine, etc.) she helped normalize her xenophobe party.
- En Marche ! : Technically, En Marche! is not a party, but a “movement”, which refuses the label of being “leftist” or “rightist”. Its founder, Emmanuel Macron, is a young (39) man who went through the royal path to power: degree of philosophy, Sciences Po, ENA, Inspection générale des finances, Rotschild, Ministry of Economy. A brilliant citizen.
Now, since Sunday evening, my landlords’ fears are put to rest: Emmanuel Macron has been elected President, with more than 60% of the votes. If you count abstention and blank ballots, it’s more 45%, but who cares, he will be in office. We escaped the Lepen dynasty and will still enjoy 5 years of relative peace. Maybe.
What I find interesting is that by looking at newspaper covers outside of France, the world seems euphoric. France did not give up and, as John Oliver hoped, it proved itself superior to the UK and US. Nevertheless, I believe that difficulties lie ahead of us. The reason why Lepen has still gathered more than 30% is alarming: 30% of people who expressed clearly their opinion decided to vote for a lady who wants to “make France great again” by expulsing migrants, refusing to welcome refugees, denigrating freedom of religion, etc. Moreover, an important number of people decided not to vote, either by not going at all or by casting a blank ballot (16 million people). To put it simply, 1 French person out of 4 decided to not go, at all. And among those people, I believe many felt that the 2 candidates were not representing their opinion/wishes, and they did not want to cast a vote for the “less worse” (we call it “vote utile”) as they did not endorse neither candidate. One of my landlords told me it was irresponsible, as everything should be done to avoid having Marine Lepen in office. I replied, trying to stay calm: “This is a real decision they make. They are expressing a profound discontent against the current political system. It is the proof of the existence of a deep political crisis, not irresponsibility.”
Among people who did not go to vote or did not cast a valid ballot, I guess we could fine many left-wing people who really believed in the social programs supported by Mélenchon and/or Hamon. They wanted a return to Keynesian policies, instead of deregulated globalization. They hoped for more state-sponsored initiatives, a better social safety net, public investments creating jobs, etc. But facing Lepen and Macron, they understood that their wishes would not be fulfilled. Lepen is promoting “national preference”, a politically correct word to talk about isolationism, while Macron is supporting more deregulation on the labor market. Both candidates have no desire to stop nuclear energy, nor to help modest families to make ends meet. Well, at least Macron did not express a will to get out of the EU. Yeah.
I personally believe that we should not express to much joy about those elections. We still need to stay focus until the end of the legislative elections, as Macron will not be able to govern without a stable majority at the Parliament. But what happens when a candidate does not belong to a party, and therefore has no clear allies in parliament? How will he organize his troops and will those be loyal? Many questions are still floating around, and we will not get an answer until June. Also, I believe that it will be important for Macron to understand that he actually gathered 43% of the votes, not 66%, meaning that he is in a delicate position. With 25% of French people who did not vote, he will have to prove that he is worthy of the task. And I do not believe that more economic deregulation, less taxes for the ones who can afford to pay them, or a more flexible labor market is the solution. French people are not like Germans, they will not quietly endure austerity, waiting for better days. Instead, they might choose to vote for Marine Lepen in five years. And then I do not believe that we will able to stop her anymore.
So, Emmanuel, good luck.