Tag Archives: France

French election a pivotal European test

Related story: Security issues dominate key French vote. Above, a man looks at campaign posters of the 11th candidates who run in the 2017 French presidential election in Enghien-les-Bains, near Paris, France April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

By Richard Maher 
April 21, 2017

French voters go to the polls on April 23 for the first round of what has been the most unorthodox, unpredictable and potentially momentous presidential contest in recent French history. The Conversation

For the first time in 60 years, polls suggest that the two candidates who garner the most votes in the first round will likely not belong to either of France’s main parties.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, is all but certain to advance to the May 7 runoff. There she is likely to face the independent Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker and one-time economic adviser to President François Hollande.

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A Le Pen victory could lead to France’s withdrawal from the Eurozone and even from the European Union, a once unthinkable prospect that would have repercussions far beyond the continent.

In a crowded field of 11 contenders, which includes a car factory mechanic, a Trotskyite high school economics teacher and a long-term activist who wants to colonise Mars, four candidates have a realistic shot at making it to the second round.

In addition to Le Pen and Macron, they include former prime minister François Fillon, who is under judicial investigation for misuse of public funds, and far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Le Pen and and Fillon ended their campaigns early after a gunman shot dead a police officer and wounded two others on the Champs-Élysées on the evening of April 20. The gunman was shot dead by police while attempting to flee.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, and Le Pen’s chances might get a boost from the incident because she has taken a hard line against Muslim immigration and has vowed to make the fight against Islamic terrorism an “absolute priority”.

Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for the French 2017 presidential election, attends a news conference in Paris, France, April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Top two contenders

Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, or Onwards!, and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, attends the France 2 television special prime time political show, “15min to Convince” in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, France, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Martin Bureau/Pool

The National Front has been around for 45 years, but it has never been in a better position to capture the French presidency; it is no longer a fringe party.

For the past year, Le Pen has been at or near the top of the polls. The question has never been whether she would make it to the second round runoff but who she would face there.

Le Pen has vowed to “drastically” reduce immigration into France, combat the “Islamification” of society and renegotiate the terms of France’s EU membership.

Saying that she wants France to be a “true country” and not “a mere region of the European Union”, Le Pen proposes to exit the Eurozone and reintroduce the franc, leave the EU’s Schengen border-free area and hold a national referendum within six months of taking office over leaving the EU.

Emmanuel Macron, who has never held elected office, is neck-and-neck with Le Pen in the latest polls. A graduate of the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA), the traditional training ground for France’s business and government elite, he launched his En Marche! (Onward!) movement just over a year ago.

Only 36 when Hollande appointed him to run the ministry of economy in 2014, he is one of the youngest people to ever hold a cabinet position in France.

Macron presents himself as a reformist, pro-Europe, pro-business technocrat. He wants to preserve many elements of France’s social model while enhancing the country’s global competitiveness.

He is a strong defender of European integration, and has said that he wants to forge a new Franco-German partnership to lead Europe. He praised German chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome more than a million migrants and refugees into Germany, saying it saved Europe’s “collective dignity”.

Still, many voters remain sceptical of Macron, pointing to his youth, inexperience and undistinguished record in government.

A combination picture shows candidates for the French 2017 presidential election, 1st row L-R : Nathalie Arthaud, France’s extreme-left Lutte Ouvriere political party (LO) leader, Francois Asselineau, UPR candidate, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Debout La France group candidate, Francois Fillon, the Republicans political party candidate, 2nd row L-R : Benoit Hamon, French Socialist party candidate, Jean Lassalle, Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader, Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (or Onwards !), Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate of the French far-left Parti de Gauche, Philippe Poutou, Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) presidential candidate, after the official announcement in Paris, France. France goes to the polls on Sunday April 23, 2017 in the first round of its presidential election. REUTERS/Staff

Corruption and disarray

Just a few months ago, François Fillon was widely considered to be a shoo-in for the Elysée Palace. A socially conservative free-market defender, he defeated former president Nicolas Sarkozy (his one-time boss) and former prime minister Alain Juppé to win the nomination of the centre-right Republicans last November.

Accused of giving his wife and two children generous salaries for fictitious jobs as parliamentary aides, Fillon was last month charged with several counts of embezzlement. His support has steadily declined since the story broke in January 2017, and it now appears unlikely that he will advance to the second round of voting.

France’s traditional left is also in disarray. Hollande, its first Socialist president since François Mitterrand’s tenure ended in 1995, is the most unpopular president in modern French history. With an approval rating that at one point sunk to 4%, Hollande is now the first sitting president in the history of the Fifth Republic not to run for reelection.

Instead, the Socialist Party nominated Benoît Hamon, who beat out former prime minister Manuel Valls. Hamon’s campaign, which promises a universal basic income, has failed to gain traction; he is currently polling in fifth place.

Unexpectedly, though, the radical leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, backed by the Communist Party, has made a late surge. He is now running neck-and-neck with Fillon in the number three spot, behind Le Pen and Macron.

Mélenchon, who has called for a “citizen revolution”, opposes the EU and NATO, wants a 90% maximum income tax rate and to lower France’s official working week from 35 hours to 32.

Detrimental to Europe

Most current polls concur that Le Pen and Macron will advance to the second round runoff next month, with Macron ultimately beating Le Pen by a 20-point margin.

While a Le Pen victory remains unlikely, it is not implausible. Much will depend on voter turnout; a low showing is expected to help Le Pen. Her supporters tend to be more motivated to cast their ballots than those of other candidates.

Current forecasts suggest that turnout may be as low as 65% in the first round. That would be the lowest in recent history (the previous low was 72% in 2002).

If, in the second round, Fillon’s, Hamon’s and Mélenchon’s supporters opted to stay home rather than vote for Macron, Le Pen could eke out a narrow victory.

Europe has had a number of important elections and referenda over the past year, but none with the gravity and significance of France’s presidential election.

The EU will survive Brexit: the UK entered the European Economic Community, the EU’s precursor, late and was always lukewarm on the enterprise. But it would not survive a French exit. And a Le Pen victory next month may lead to the unraveling of both the idea — and the reality — of a united Europe.

There’s folly in mistaking the improbable for the impossible, as Brexit and Donald Trump proved in 2016. “What seemed impossible.” as Le Pen herself said the morning after Trump’s presidential triumph, “is now possible.”

Creative Commons

Richard Maher is a Research Fellow in theGlobal Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, at European University Institute. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Next story: Security issues dominate key French vote, by Leigh Thomas and Marine Pennetier: The killing of a policeman by a suspected Islamist militant pushed national security to the top of the French political agenda on Friday, two days before the presidential election.


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Will 2017 bring surprises for European integration?


By Lionel Page
February, 2017

Marcel Aymé character "Dutilleul," the Walker Through Walls/Le Passe-Muraille Photo Deborah Jones © 2015

The elections of 2017 in France and Germany could bring surprises, argues Lionel Page. Above, a sculpture of writer Marcel Aymé character’s “Dutilleul,” the Walker Through Walls/Le Passe-Muraille, in Paris, France.  Photo by Deborah Jones © 2015

There can be little doubt that this year’s elections in Germany and France may determine the future of the European Union.

For nearly a decade now, the EU has been facing unprecedented challenges, from the euro crisis and the influx of migrants to Brexit and the rise of nationalism. On their own, any one of these crises could threaten the cohesion of the union; together they represent an existential threat.

But the tide could yet turn. Depending on the outcomes of the French and German elections, 2017 could actually be the start a more integrated and unified Europe.

The rise of Emmanuel Macron

France is facing one of its most fascinating election in recent history. Former prime minister François Fillon, a traditional conservative, looked likely to win power. But an embarrassing corruption scandal involving the employment of his wife Penelope has significantly dented his chances.

The Socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, is highly unlikely to make it far. Having won the socialist primary on a very left-wing platform, it will be difficult for him to reach beyond his core group of supporters.

Leading the polls is Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National, who is running on a populist, eurosceptic, anti-immigrant platform. Le Pen is projected to win the first round of voting on April 23, but she is most likely to be knocked out in the second round, where 50% of voters are required to win.

The man who defeats Le Pen in the May 7 second round may not come from either of France’s main parties. Emmanuel Macron is now one of the favourites to win the elections.

Macron’s political success has come incredibly fast. An unknown three years ago, he is now on track of possibly becoming the youngest president of the Fifth Republic, at age 39.

As a minister, Macron was vocally pro-business, in conflict with the classical tenets of the French left: he defended Uber, the opening of shops on Sunday and the reduction of the costs to terminate labour contracts. He became very popular with the French public while finding himself at loggerheads with many figures of the ruling Socialist party.

In August 2016 he quit the government and launched a presidential bid as an independent. Half a year later, he has transformed his initial political start-up into a political movement, En Marche (Forward), with political rallies that attract thousands.

His strength comes from the match between his discourse and French voters’ desire for change. His left-liberal political position would not be unusual in many Northern European countries, but in France it is a novelty. Nearly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the French left has not adapted to economic modernity. Facing the competition of a strong Communist Party in postwar France, the Socialist Party maintained a traditionally anti-capitalist position. This ideological position has often been disconnected from social-liberal policies adopted once in government.

By seizing on these contradictions and crossing the left-right divide, Macron has thrived. His novel political platform is characterised by an economic liberalism blended with concern for social justice and political and cultural liberalism.

Young, charismatic and intellectual, Macron has attracted people from both the left and the right, and drawn a lot of newcomers to politics. At the same time, political space has opened for him. Both Fillon and Hamon are hard-line candidates, leaving an spot in the centre for Macron.

A Macron victory would have important consequences for the EU. Unlike most French politicians, who are either shy integrationists or vocal eurosceptics, he is strongly pro-EU; his supporters cheer for Europe in political meetings.

In January, he wrote in the Financial Times that it was time for Europeans to become sovereign. This stance could end French opposition to deeper political integration.

The election of Marine Le Pen would lead to the unravelling of the EU, but if France chooses Macron, the union will get a significant boost from one of its core members.

Germany: a new hope for the SPD

The other key country in holding the EU together is of course Germany, which goes to the polls on September 24. Angela Merkel, of the Christian Democratic Union, is running for her fourth term as chancellor.

Hoping to dislodge Merkel from the Bundestag is Martin Schulz of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). In January, the none-too-popular Sigmar Gabriel made way for Schulz to become the part’s lead candidate.

Schulz is a rarity in European politics, having made his career in the EU before vying for a top national position. A member of the European Parliament since 1994, Schulz was its president from 2012 to January 2017.

There, he helped stage a political coup that dramatically shifted the balance of EU institutions, transferring power from the Head of States (Council) to the Parliament, and through it to European voters.

In 2010, the Party of European Socialists decided to name a leading candidate to become the president of the European Commission in case of victory at the 2014 European elections, and chose Schulz. But the European elections in May 2014 did not deliver a clear majority.

Schulz could have tried to form a majority on the left, but he instead supported a cross-bench motion from the European Parliament stating that conservative candidate Jean-Claude Juncker was the winner of the election and that he had to be nominated.

Schulz understood the political game he was facing. The Council wanted to keep nominating the president, and the lack of a clear majority gave it the opportunity to propose another candidate. Schulz’s decision to withdraw gave the Parliament the upper hand instead.

At the time, Merkel seemed to indicate that she would not support Juncker. She faced a storm of criticism in the German media and was accused of betraying the democratic promise of the election. Soon after, she caved and endorsed Juncker.

Martin Schulz’s key role in this manoeuvre indicates that as chancellor he would probably leverage Germany’s power to further EU integration. It would mark a substantial change compared to Merkel, whose approach has been to take as few steps as necessary and to protect German finances before all.

Deeper integration

Could Macron or Schulz have an impact on European integration? Most likely.

Many factors in the current context are pushing in that direction. Politically, the lack of accountability and transparency of decisions at the European level is feeding a rise of nationalism; that threatens many European governments.

Geopolitically, we are witnessing both a resurgence of Russian military threat and a withdrawal and unpredictability of the US ally under Trump. Economically, crises are clearly calling for better coordination.

But the hurdles to further integration are lower than we think. Brexit will remove from the EU the country most opposed to closer political union. Among the remaining countries, Europeans are often said to be against further integration. But this statement confuses a criticism of current institutions with a criticism of integration.

Eurobameter studies show year after year that EU citizens support more integration in matters where nations cannot be the solution, such as defence. They also support more democracy at the European level, such as the election of the president of the European Commission.

A deeper political union may actually be closer than it seems. Without any treaty change required, the European Commission presidential nomination process has the potential to radically change the nature of European politics by creating a pan-European debate about European policies.

The only thing needed for a leap towards further political integration is for the French and German heads of state to support it. This year may just deliver that.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Lionel Page is a Professor in Economics at Queensland University of Technology. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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