Times of change for French politics
A la demande de l’hebdomadaire russe EKSPERT, j’ai rédigé ce texte en anglais, qui sera traduit en russe, sur les conséquences du premier tour de l’élection présidentielle. Compte tenu du sujet, et parce que je n’aurais guère de temps pour le traduire, je le publie comme tel.
Times of change for French politics
The first round of the French Presidential election results are quite surprising. We have seen Mrs Le Pen and M. Macron for the second round of this election. But two other candidates, M. Fillon (for the centre-right) and M Mélenchon (for the radical left) were finishing close. France has jumped from a bi-partisan into a new era of quadri-partisan system. The defeat of traditional parties, either “Republicains” or the Socialist party, neither of which are qualifying for the second round, is also to be noticed. Another important point to note has been the fast rise of Emmanuel Macron who, with the support of a large part of the medias, of the banking establishment and of a large fraction of the Socialist party came form nothing on to the first place of the first round.
1st round results
|On 97% of results|
|M. le Pen||21,40%|
The French presidential election of 2017 took place indeed in a very unexpected political context with four candidates able to qualify for the second round. But if the context was unexpected, at least by political analysts, it was not the same for the economic and political situation of France. The deterioration of the country’s situation for the past ten years has been obvious. The number of unemployed people has risen consistently as the Euro (and the European Monetary Union) failed to deliver all its promises. Begun under the presidency of Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, this deterioration continued, and even accelerated, under the presidency of François Hollande. The latter’s record is short of catastrophic. This explains why he is the president whose popularity has fallen to the lowest ratings. Yes, the first round of the presidential election was the time chosen by most French people to say as loudly they can their discontent with this situation.
Men of unemployment and the past
In this unprecedented election campaign emerged an unexpected “gang of 4”. While two months ago everyone thought that the final confrontation would be between Mrs Marine le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, the actual situation has been marked by a radical change.
Francois Fillon has lost an election he couldn’t lose. He has been entangled in the moral consequences of the various scandals that have splashed him. The question is not so much the legal dimension of the accusations (and it is up to the justice to decide this question) but the moral dimension of these cases, which definitively undermines the image of this candidate as a man of high moral standards and integrity. One recalls that he had made this so-called integrity its striking difference with Nicolas Sarkozy, of which he was Prime Minister.
Impact is very great because this candidate has been the devout apostle of a policy of extreme rigor and envisages dramatic cuts in the public service. His speeches are focusing on the public debt issues but policy he advocates could well trigger massive a recession which, in turn could well make the debt to grow further. By the way, this policy was already, and one tends to forget it, applied from 2011 to the 2012 presidential election. It has caused an instant increase of 300,000 unemployed and, considering that these effects have been felt until the beginning of 2013, in reality of 500 000 unemployed. One can imagine the dramatic consequences that would result from the application of François Fillon’s program. Still supporters of this candidate feel betrayed by the “system” and the medias. Even if Mr Fillon has called to vote for Emmanuel Macron at the second round behaviour of a large part of his constituent can’t be predicted.
At the same time, Emmanuel Macron proved to be a catch-all candidate able to unite from former leftist (Daniel Cohn-Bendit) to a former Prime-minister of Jacques Chirac (Mr de Villepin). He concentrated on his name all the politicians in danger, seeking to escape from the wreck of the presidency of François Hollande, from François Bayrou (of the Christian-Democrat centre) to well known socialist politicians like Manuel Valls, a former Hollande Prime-minister. His candidature was largely carried by a part of the French medias. The voters didn’t seem to have realized both the emptiness of the character, and the extremely reactionary nature of his social project. Emmanuel Macron, behind a falsely modern language, is in fact only the advocate of a return to the early nineteenth century, a return to the “domestic system” the industrial Revolution. It is striking to note that the very candidate who never ceases to praise the virtues of what he calls “the digital economy”, is actually a man of the past. But, Emmanuel Macron is also a man of the past with a second title. If he presents himself as a “new man”, even – and this is not lacking in salt – as an “anti-system” candidate, it should be remembered that he was closely associated, whether as an adviser to François Hollande or as Minister of Manuel Valls, to the disastrous policy implemented during this five-year term. This policy has added, from February 2013 to the beginning of this year, more than 400 000 unemployed to the considerable number that had left us the tandem Sarkozy-Fillon.
Then both François Fillon and Emmanuel Macron had defects going deep in their programmes. But, Emmanuel Macron, boosted by the support of the medias has so far enabled to overcome them.
Candidates for a future?
Mrs Marine le Pen relied on an extremely stable electorate, largely composed of convinced people. She defied all the approximations and other sleeve effects seeking to call her “extreme right” and even, without any fear of ridicule, “fascist”. If extremist fringes can join his electorate, its reality is different. It corresponds very widely to what the geographer Christophe Guilluy called “peripheral France” as shown by the vote geographic repartition.
Who won what at the presidential election first round
All this “peripheral France” does not vote for Mrs Marine le Pen, and one can find in its constituents representatives of wealthy districts, but it is incontestable that a large part of the neglected ones of the government policies of the last years, victims of the “globalization”, vote for it. We are here in the presence of a populist movement which is developing all the more as the current political system has gone bankrupt. It is also striking that this populist movement has largely taken over the codes of political democracy and is characterized by an extremely low level of violence, much lower than what can be found in certain small groups. This is one of the reasons why the accusations of “fascism” are ridiculously finished. Like any populist movement, it has aspects that can be described as “right-wing” and others that can be described as “left-wing”. This is a contradiction that is classic in all populist movements.
But the “surprise” of this election was the rapid rise during the last weeks of the campaign of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who returned the candidate of the Socialist party not to its nothing and to its lowest level for a candidate of this party (around 7%). Here, too, we are faced with a movement that brings together the excluded and the losers of globalization. Here too, we are faced with a clearly populist movement. As in all populist movements, there is a charismatic dimension, and the person of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, like that of Marine le Pen, fascinates many of his potential voters. The surprise, therefore, is that Mélenchon joined the first three candidates. This is the result of a very well aimed campaign. If unable to be qualified to the second round, with a share of vote three times larger than what get the Socialist Party candidate, Mélenchon has all the possibilities to emerge as the dominant figure of the left after the election.
These two candidates undoubtedly represented a form of future for France.
Candidates in a disjointed landscape
Benoît Hamon, the official candidate of the Socialist Party, continued his descent into the abyss. It is normal in a sense as he is in reality the heir of the Socialist Party founded in the early 1970’s and now completely discredited. Its program is only the announcement of the death knell of the party which had wanted to “do politics differently” and that has sunk into the quagmire of corruption, personal compromises and ambitions. Sandwiched between Emmanuel Macron, to which leaders of the Socialist Party (from Manuel Valls to Vaillant) rallied, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s one, his campaign has gradually ebbed. His political proposals were largely inaudible. The fact that in the last days of the campaign for the first round he allowed himself calumnious attacks against Jean-Luc Mélenchon, attacks that dishonour him, testifies to the discredit that strikes him. These attacks led also his electorate to question the meaning and nature of his candidacy: what was the use of Benedict Hamon’s candidacy? Reduced to a simple candidature of testimony, it will signify the end of the political cycle that had begun with the election of François Mitterrand. Then, the loop will be completed, and the Socialist Party will end up in the same bins of History where the SFIO – its functional predecessor – ended with the calamitous campaign for Presidency of Gaston Deferre and Pierre Mendès-France in 1969, a campaign which ended with Deferre making less than 6%, more or less the same score Hamon did on April 23rd .
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan managed to make him heard, and with 4,7% has not been ridiculous. His discourse is firmly sovereignist, and contrasts with the quasi-permanent changes of feet of François Fillon on this point. It is not insignificant that Francois Fillon attacked him viciously, and in fact slander, during the debate of 4 April. These attacks testified to the despair of Francois Fillon. It also credited the idea that Nicolas Dupont-Aignan has become, for the candidate of the “Republicans”, a real threat. One may think that Fillon’s fear is that Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s candidacy will gather around her a part of the voters who are sickened by the scandals surrounding the pretender of the “Republicans” just as they are disgusted by his long story of compromise of sarkozysm. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, if he succeeds in attracting this fringe of the electorate of the former UMP who thinks that the personal honesty and the honour of a candidate are things that counts, also embodies the future facing the past.
Sovereignist’s victory and contradictions
Here we must return to the contradictions present in the programs of Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. For these contradictions exist and their importance must be assessed. Marine le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon represent two versions of the sovereignist program, certainly more asserted by Marine le Pen than by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. It is important to note that these two candidates represent, with the contributions of Dupont-Aignan, but also of two minor parties candidate, MM. Asselineau and Cheminade, a sovereignist program which – and this is the great revelation of this presidential election – is today affirming itself as culturally dominant. The total score of these five candidates is topping 47% and even Mr Macron had to use twice the word “patriots” in his Sunday April 23rd address. This is an extremely important fact if we want to understand what is happening in France today. Never before has the European Union been so discredited as in recent months. Even if a large majority of French people prefer the Euro to a return to the Franc, the fact that the same majority of French people say they are disappointed with the EU suggests that the preference for the euro may well be reversed very quickly. One can then already say that even if Mrs le Pen would be defeated by Mr Macron on Sunday May 7th, she has to a point reconfigured the political agenda but also the political vocabulary. It’s a major success, a cultural victory.
However, both Mrs le Pen and Mr Mélenchon had been unable however to effectively describe by what process they would implement this part of their program if they got elected. This probably stopped Mélenchon rise when he was nearly overtaking François Fillon. Mrs le Pen is to clarify her position quickly or she will suffer in any debates against Emmanuel Macron.
Choosing the Future
Nevertheless, the essential point must be recalled here. In this election, we have a struggle between the past and the future. Very clearly, François Fillon, Emmanuel Macron and in a sense Benoît Hamon have embodied the past. They also embody the passivity of a policy pursued for a decade. Indeed, François Fillon and Emmanuel Macron represent two strategies that have already failed, the one implemented by Nicolas Sarkozy and the one implemented by François Hollande, and which have considerably aggravated unemployment in France. These two strategies are largely responsible for the deindustrialization that France has experienced. Benoît Hamon, for his part, offered nothing to suggest that he is ready to break with the errors of this dramatic mandate, whether in economy or in the field of security. The attack in Paris of Thursday April 20th and before in Stockholm reminds us that one cannot remain in the denial of the danger represented by radical Islamism. On this specific point, both Emmanuel Macron and Benoît Hamon look weak.
These three candidates propose to us, more or less, to continue to link our future with a European Union, and a Euro zone, both of which have demonstrated all their harmfulness and their negative nature for France’s economy. Their proposals for changing the EU and the Eurozone are at best vague and without consistency, at worst they are non-existent. Even if Mr Macron is described in the French medias has a man of his time the actual reality is that he is a man of the past, one of the responsible of President François Hollande’s terrible economic policy. His program doesn’t contain any hints about how he will really fight the economic slum France suffered for the last 10 years. His ability to skilfully negotiate with Mrs Merkel’s Germany doesn’t look obvious. He will most probably lock France again in the same doll drums where it has been locked during Hollande’s mandate. The social and economic consequences are to be truly catastrophic.
The second round will show if French voters prefer to keep old but failed solutions or will opt for bold, and certainly untried, ones.