French Presidential Election: Half-Time Musings

Image source: Vox

The second round of voting for the French presidential election takes place on May 7th, and opposes the centrist, Emmanuel Macron, to the extreme-right-wing Marine Le Pen. Both candidates need to capture votes to ensure victory.

Storm in a “Whirlpool”

Very astutely, Marine Le Pen set a trap for Emmanuel Macron by paying a surprise visit to striking employees at the Whirlpool plant, in the northern town of Amiens. Macron was having a meeting with the Whirlpool unions, only kilometres away, but knew nothing of Le Pen’s visit. The plant is threatened with closure; pending a relocation in Poland.

Macron was forced into facing the angry employees threatened with redundancy. He visited the plant in the afternoon and, to his credit, escaped unscathed. They didn’t even manage to rip his shirt off, which is more than can be said for the director of human resources at Air-France, who faced an equally angry crowd, in 2015. It won’t be the last time she tries to embarrass him because lacking feasible policies, Le Pen has other qualities, including demagogy. It’s just a pity that demagogy doesn’t create jobs.

In fact, the trap probably back-fired on Le Pen because Macron showed her up. The French people saw Le Pen’s true colours of blue, white and red, tinged with darkness of bigotry and demagogy. Macron, however, gave us insights into what sort of president he could be, showing courage and honesty.

“I have not come here to carry out demagogy or to make selfies” –  Emmanuel Macron, Amiens 2017

“With me, this plant will not shut down, even if that means nationalisation” – Marine Le Pen, Amiens 2017

Marine Le Pen only spent a few minutes with the workforce but got plenty of publicity. Whilst Le Pen alluded to nationalisation, Macron made them no promises. He concluded: “the answer doesn’t lie in the suppression of globalisation, or the suppression of borders.” That was something that Le Pen didn’t go into, being too busy with the media that she once denounced. Making popular selfies, she wants to be close to the people and not part of the elite. The question remains, how populist can she get?

Marine Le Pen is “scaring the squirrels”

For Le Pen, relocation is the epitome of globalisation, and the suppression of national identity and barriers. Anything and anyone can move everywhere and anywhere. She makes no secret of wanting France to quit the Euro and the EU.

TO GIVE BACK TO FRANCE ITS NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY. TO STRIVE TOWARDS A EUROPE OF INDEPENDENT NATIONS, AT THE SERVICE OF THE PEOPLE:  

to find our freedom and the control of our destiny by restoring to the French people its sovereignty (monetary, legislative, territorial, and economic). For that, a negotiation with our European partners followed by a referendum on our membership of the European Union. The objective is to arrive at a European project that is respectful of France’s independence, of national sovereignties and which serves the interests of the people. (National Front Manifesto)

70% of Le Pen’s policies depend on France leaving the EU, but she is realising that the French are not so keen on leaving. They are even less keen on scrapping the Euro, with only 28% nostalgic for the French Franc. Le Pen admitted publicly that she was “conscious of the worries of the French people,” and that she would organise a referendum prior to any decision. She even said that she “felt European” and was not an “enemy of Europe,” probably realising that the French are Europe’s number one squirrels when it comes to saving money for later. Symbolised by a squirrel, the Caisse d’épargne network of mutual savings banks, so popular with the elderly, is just about as untouchable as Camembert cheese and Beaujolais Nouveau. There would be a massive opposition to quitting the Euro, out of fear that savings would be significantly devalued in the process.

Marine Le Pen now faces a dilemma. Her anti-European stance, good enough to earn her the right to fight the second round, must attract voters who have never voted for her before. Reassurance over her position on the Euro and the EU is needed. At the same time, she must not seem to do a U-turn on Europe because without quitting the EU and the Euro, her policies are not viable. However, promising to quit both also seems unfeasible. A return to the Franc may scare off the 10 million squirrels she needs to win the election.

Evolution and Decomposition of French Politics

The absence of Republican and socialist candidates, for the first time in the Fifth Republic’s history, underscores the fact that the French political landscape has undergone a seismic shift. The Republicans will mostly support Macron, but some more enthusiastically than others. The support is due to the threat of Le Pen actually winning. The moderate socialists have also advised their electorate to support Macron, but what about the radical left and the abstainers? Furthermore, the situation will be radically different for the legislative elections, – held next June – where it is far from clear if this support will transform itself into an allegiance or a coalition.

Sunday’s choice is between Le Pen’s nationalism and Macron’s progressivism. It is also between two different visions of France’s democracy, which will directly influence the very nature of the Fifth Republic. Le Pen’s vision is one of a plebiscitary democracy, associated referendums and proportional representation. Macron’s vision is that of a consensus democracy. Either way, the French will have to get used to a new form of government. The Fifth Republic, like its predecessors, came into being after a deep and bloody conflict. The French army, fighting in Algeria and fearing that it would be abandoned by the government, took over government control in Algeria and Corsica. This forced the French government to negotiate the appointment of General Charles de Gaulle as head of state. In June 1958, the French government and constitution were dissolved. In September 1958, a referendum endorsed the Fifth Republic and de Gaulle was elected its first president.

Today, the Fifth Republic must be able to adapt to the new political landscape, the traditional parties having all but disappeared. New visions have replaced them, together with new hope. Voting for Macron is not synonymous with voting for old politics. Although he originates from the elite political system, he seems to have detached himself from it by forming his own progressive movement.

If Macron is elected on May 7th, it will be because the French electorate have put their trust in him to be able to turn things around. He must then deliver because he may not get a second chance.

Emmanuel Macron’s Late Night Out

In the jubilation of his victory, Macron celebrated in the famous (and expensive) brasserie La Rotonde, in Paris. Champagne was being sipped in an ambience more appropriate for a landslide electoral victory, rather than the 24% that Macron scored on the night. You cannot blame him for that, because a year ago, his political party was barely a tadpole zygote. Now, he is on the verge of becoming Président de la République.

Celebrating victory is understandable. What is less forgiving, is celebrating in an upmarket brasserie (46 euro’s p.p. for a 3-course menu), on a night when he only got 24% of the vote. Many French people cannot afford to eat there, yet alone throw a party. Macron should have considered two things before he celebrated. Firstly, Marine Le Pen is a born demagogue and populist, who now prides herself in being “for the people,” and against the elite. By organising a party that must have cost a bob or two, and celebrating a victory not yet obtained, he gives her proof that elitism is alive and well. Secondly, just under 50% of the vote, including his share, went to “alternative” candidates, underscoring not only the desire for a complete change in policies, but also the way politicians behave.

“If you haven’t understood that it’s my pleasure tonight to invite out my secretaries, my security guards, then you haven’t understood anything about life.” – Emmanuel Macron

I may not understand anything about life, but I’m beginning to wonder if Emmanuel Macron understands anything about present-day politics.

 

About George Suchett-Kaye 65 Articles
George is a British/French national. He has a passion for oral microbiology (obtained a PhD in Lyon, France) and a passion for philosophy and politics.

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