After a year of massive shifts in the political order from Europe to the United States, all eyes turned to the French elections to see whether even more political upheaval was coming. Emmanuel Macron ran and won on a pro-European Union (EU), pro-globalization platform against Marine Le Pen, an isolationist and populist candidate. These two starkly different politicians provided a clear window into the stratification and polarization of French society, and a window into the increasing division within global affairs. Here, a series of Opinions writers attempt to tackle the vast implications of the French election: its impact on France, the U.S., and global politics, and the lessons we can take away from such an critical political moment.
The Future of France?
The results of the French election, a contest between the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and the far-right Marine le Pen, highlight an important political shift taking place in the Western world. Political establishments in Europe and America were left reeling after shocking victories for Brexit and Trump. In Austria, the anti-immigration freedom party nearly won the presidency, claiming 47 percent of the vote. And in the famously liberal Netherlands, the party of the notorious Geert Wilders came in second place, winning 20 seats in Parliament.
All eyes turned to France, whose election results would not only determine the policies of one of Europe’s most powerful countries, but would likely determine the fate of the EU. Many people around the word expressed relief when Macron handily won the election with a large majority of the vote.
However, Macron’s victory should not come as a surprise. Throughout the campaign, Marine Le Pen was dogged by the the reputation of her party, the National Front. Despite spending years softening her party’s racist and anti-Semitic image, a poll conducted in March showed that 58 percent of French people still believed the party was “a danger to democracy.” Le Pen was eventually forced to step down as leader of the party in order to become “the president of all the French.”
Apart from the reputation of her party, Le Pen’s own policies were unpopular or improbable. One of her main campaign promises was to make the franc the primary French currency, leaving the euro in the process. Only 28 percent of French voters were found to support this currency change. She promised to prioritize French Nationals over immigrants when determining the distribution of government benefits, a policy many experts declared unconstitutional. In order to restore the rule of law, she advocated for the return of the death penalty, also only finding support among 28 percent of voters. To combat Islamism, Le Pen called for the banning of “all religious symbols” in public, a policy even she branded a “sacrifice.” Considering her support for such extremist policies, a Le Pen victory was nearly impossible.
Emmanuel Macron couldn’t have been more different. A youthful, likable candidate who now enjoys a 62 percent approval rating, he was never at serious risk of losing the presidency once he had made it into the second round of voting. His largely centrist politics, along with the unpopularity of Marine Le Pen, enabled him to comfortably win the presidency. However, celebrations of the end of populism and the rightwards shift in Europe are premature. It has to be noted that the election of Macron still represents a rejection of establishment politics, as he had never held elected office prior to his election victory. He also supports conservative policies such as the reduction of the corporate tax rate, cutting of public sector jobs, and the decreasing of government spending.
Macron is no progressive, and a large portion of his election victory can be attributed to the public’s aversion toward Marine Le Pen, who still managed to record the largest vote percentage ever received by her party. His election highlights the increasing power of conservatism in Europe. In the U.K., the next election is expected to provide a stronger mandate for the pro-Brexit conservative Theresa May. Germany will hold another pivotal election this September. While France has made the right choice concerning its leadership, it remains to be seen if the rest of Europe will do the same.
The Stagnation of Socialism
Imagine if the Democratic Party suddenly became irrelevant in American politics. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would become minor politicians and attract little to no attention from the news media. The whole party that had produced Barack Obama, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy would simply not be a viable group anymore.
That is essentially what has been happening to the French Socialist Party since the extremely unpopular presidency of the previous President Francois Hollande. In the first round of voting in the French Presidential election, the Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon received a paltry 6.4 percent of the vote. This is coming from a former giant in French politics that produced one of the greatest politicians in recent French history, former President Francois Mitterrand.
This decline for the Socialist Party was not unforeseen, considering the lack of support of Hamon by the French left, and the 11.4 percent approval rating for former President Francois Hollande. Hamon was associated with Hollande because he worked in his administration, which left him vulnerable to attacks by far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. In addition, the Socialist Party took heavy losses in 2014, where they lost over 150 towns to the far-right National Front and the center-right Republican Party.
The French Left has split between extremes, which leaves no room for the Socialist Party as it tries to unify all of those on the left in France. Instead, voters will become increasingly enchanted by both the Bernie Sanders-esque policies of Jean-Luc Melenchon on the far left or be drawn to the startling new power of Emmanuel Macron and his party, En Marche!.
While both Macron and Melenchon are enchanting candidates, they risk defeating their own policy by splitting the votes of the French left in the upcoming Parliamentary elections, thus giving more of an advantage to the National Front and the Republican Party. The main draw of the Socialist Party is that it drew together the disparate strands of the French left and wove them into a cohesive party. How will the Socialist Party survive such a pincer movement against its main base?
Unwittingly, the French left has gotten itself into an even tougher situation than before the presidential election because the rapid ascent of Macron and Melenchon was so unforeseen. Potential leaders of the Socialist Party have abandoned it when it needs strong leadership the most. Previous Prime Minister Manuel Valls all but disowned the Socialist Party even though he campaigned to run on its ticket just one year ago. The Socialist Party is leaderless, and has no real direction of where it wants to go politically.
What lies ahead then is chaos. The former leading political party of the French left is now insignificant to the electorate and no candidate or party has convincingly stepped forward to take the reins of this growing rupture in French politics.
However, it must be noted that the French left was facing these same convulsions in 1969, where the then-leading SFIO party was in disarray and competing with French communists for sway over left side of the political spectrum. No clear winner appeared poised to emerge until Francois Mitterand united these factions to form the Socialist Party. Perhaps, so long as they are in line with their political prognosticators, things are not as dire as they seem; history, after all, has repeated itself before.
Battle Against Nationalism
Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election symbolizes hope for the EU and, moreso, globalism. Macron’s opposition, Marine Le Pen, advocated for isolationism and the removal of France from the EU. She was able to gain significant traction because of the widespread discontent of the French people with their government. Macron will have to unify the French people in believing in modern French values, mainly globalism and secularism, in order to ensure that the French people remain satisfied under the EU. As Macron said in his acceptance speech, “My responsibility will be to bring every woman and man together, ready to confront the immense challenges awaiting us, and to act.” A large challenge he must face is the disgruntled citizens who call for radical change.
Le Pen intended on returning to an era of nationalism and isolationism, and in doing so, thwarting the success of the EU. Le Pen had plans on replacing their use of the Euro with the nouveau franc. In addition, she wanted to cut the tax rate for impoverished people while lowering the retirement age, which appealed to the working class who felt forgotten by their government. According to a French news network The Local, nearly nine million French people live in poverty. Poverty has been steadily rising in France for some time. This is no doubt a serious issue that Macron will have to resolve if he plans on unifying France and stunting the growth of public dissidents.
Another major aspect of Marine Le Pen’s campaign was the shutting down of France’s borders. This pro-right movement brings a larger issue to light: the migrant and refugee crisis. Most people in Europe are afraid of terrorism, and in turn, afraid of the refugees coming into Europe. Macron must contain the movement of this reactionary group against accepting refugees.
Although Emmanuel Macron has won the presidency and has won the battle against nationalism and isolationism, this nationalistic movement is here to stay. Macron must unite the French people in order to preserve the EU, the progress made in globalization, and the secularism of the populace.
Le Pen… Loses?
Months after the conclusion of one of America’s most heated elections, Europe stirred with a particularly fierce one of its own. Populist candidates emerging at the forefront of prominent election cycles appears to have become a recent global phenomena. Two political outsiders—centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen—took French politics by storm. Le Pen strongly advocated for “Frexit,” wanted to drastically lower France’s immigration quota, and was a self-pronounced champion of France’s blue-collar workers. With her father first gaining notoriety as head of the chauvinistic National Front Party, Le Pen has worked tirelessly to rid the stigma which hinders its national recognition. However, her newest label will undoubtedly be just as difficult to forsake: loser.
Despite running an ambitious campaign, Le Pen’s bid flopped on election day by decisive margins (she received 33 percent of the national vote versus Macron’s 64 percent). This landslide victory came as a shock to many, being that France’s dwindling employment rates, as well as impending terror threats causing significant anti-immigration backlash, seemed to be motivating factors that would support a political outsider. As seen in America, an idle administration was enough to push a nation into backing a radical candidate.
Yet, it was Le Pen’s affiliation to the National Front Party which lent the biggest blow to her voter backing. A history of anti-Semitic and even out-right racist remarks made humanizing her affiliation with the party a close to impossible task. Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, made infamous allegations denying the Holocaust in 2000, claiming it was but a “detail” in history. This comment dragged the National Front into the fringes of political discussion, and in turn, Le Pen with it. Her elusiveness in mainstream politics until just before the election made reviving a demographic that had already lost much respect for a disgraced party (which she continued to back) an impossible task.
She was similarly snubbed on election night by another key demographic: women. Le Pen’s campaign branded her a “capable woman.” A twice-divorced single mother, Le Pen attempted to establish relatability to France’s female population. In ads, she described herself as a woman, mother, and lawyer before fortifying her patriotism to France. The crux of her platform, an undeniably French-first attitude, was often boasted in coherence with these other aspects of her livelihood to perhaps emphasize the compatibility of womanhood and far-right stances. Despite these efforts in allowing gender to be an advantage in the election cycle, she only received the support of about 24 percent of the female vote, with the majority opting to support a relatively centrist agenda.
America’s 2016 election, in contrast, left an enormity of the vote grasping for political wild card Donald Trump, who triumphed after a grueling campaign season. The two cycles show many noticeable parallels, with extremist candidates feeding to a far-right populist platform and leaving many to wonder why exactly Le Pen fell flat while Trump emerged victorious. France’s decision to deny her the title of president only emphasizes a growing intolerance for divisive rhetoric, as well as a more progressive view for the future of France. Only time will tell if the Macron presidency actually achieves these ideals.
An Outlook on France’s Bleak Future The recent election in France magnified the contrast between politics on the European continent and politics in the U.K. and the U.S. Macron was largely elected due to his lack of the partisanship that has largely divided France for a long time. He has, to a large degree, followed through on this. His decisions to appoint Edouard Philippe, a member a center-right party in France, as his Prime Minister, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, a former Socialist defense minister as his Foreign Policy Minister, show that he is trying to heal the divide between center-right and center-left. This willingness to put partisan politics aside and choose members of both parties in his cabinet deserves some praise. But despite the overwhelming majority of his victory, winning 66 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 34 percent, he still has the lowest public confidence levels of an incoming French president in the last 20 years at just 45 percent. Macron enters the presidency with arguably the greatest challenges of any leader in French history. He has to deal with a country gripped by terrorism, low economic growth (0.8 percent GDP per capita from this point last year), and high unemployment. Along with the sluggish growth, nearly one in four youth are unemployed, much higher than Germany and many other European neighbors. His pro-business platform will likely boost France’s sluggish economy. He plans on reducing corporate income tax from 33.3 percent to 25 percent, which will probably help the economy grow at a substantially faster rate. Another positive aspect of Macron’s platform is his willingness to increase defense spending. While France arguably doesn’t need a strong military with the U.S. at its back, it is still important that they are meeting NATO’s requirement of spending two percent of GDP on defense. Macron plans to meet that requirement in 10 years, which will be a slight increase from the 1.8 percent of GDP on defense that was spent last year.
However, this is not to say that Macron is perfect. His appointment to Nicolas Hulot, a leftist firebrand who supported Melenchon, to environment chief is concerning in my eyes. I understand the importance of cutting carbon emissions. However, economic freedom is even more important. Also, many climate deals and policies, like the one signed in Paris that Macron supports, have target emission cuts that are difficult to enforce and, even if enforced, may have has a negligible impact on the environment.
His pro-EU stance is also questionable. I personally believe that the idea of European project has merits, but it should not be too controlling over the parliamentary systems across Europe. One major reason Britain left the EU was because a Brussels institution, made up of unelected bureaucrats, has the right to overrule an elected parliamentary body. This is a fundamental rejection of the concept of sovereignty, a concept that has helped promote peace throughout the world. Macron showed that he wanted an even more controlling EU when he threatened sanctions on Poland on the campaign trail if it didn’t accept refugees. The matter of accepting or rejecting refugees should be a matter up to each individual country and should not be forced upon any member country.
I wish Macron a successful presidency and I hope that he can successfully unify the country and improve the economy. However, I am skeptical that his presidency will be successful because he represents too much of the status quo and wants to be too controlling over other people’s lives.
On Both Sides of an Ocean, E-mails
As Senator Bernie Sanders so aptly phrased it, at one point, Americans were “sick and tired of hearing about [Hillary Clinton’s] damn e-mails.”
Was there ever an election so heavily focused on, of all things, e-mails? The controversy over presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server shadowed her campaign since its beginning. They were a glaring weakness, a chink in her armor; ultimately, they might even have decided the outcome of the election after former FBI director James Comey reopened an investigation into her e-mails a week before the election, albeit eventually coming up with nothing.
But a presidential candidate’s hacked e-mails, while being front and center of the 2016 U.S. election, had absolutely no impact on the French presidential election.
Granted, this might have been because Emmanuel Macron’s e-mails were hacked and released online barely two days before voting day, while the American public had known about Clinton’s e-mails for several months before casting their ballots. But there are glaring similarities between Clinton’s and Macron’s e-mails. There is speculation that both leaks were caused by Russian hackers seeking to influence the elections. Both had e-mails that, when read, proved to be utterly mundane and, frankly, boring—this is especially the case for Clinton’s e-mails, which were much less interesting and important than the media made them out to be with their constant coverage and focus on Clinton’s e-mails and apparent trustworthiness, rather than her policies.
Why, then, did the French know so little about Macron’s e-mails before they voted? Aside from the obvious discrepancy between the timing of the leaks, the French press is required to observe a “blackout” 44 hours before the start of voting for a presidential election: they can’t report on anything related to the candidates. This rule is designed so that last-minute information and media coverage cannot sway an election, especially before any issues are investigated thoroughly and all the facts are verified.
Such a rule would have been incredibly useful in America last November, when a last-minute decision by Comey to reopen the e-mail investigation led to lower voter turnout for Clinton than there would have been otherwise and could have caused a substantial amount of voters who were on the fence to change their minds about who they would cast their ballots for. FiveThirtyEight notes how Clinton led Trump by 5.9 percentage points the day before Comey’s announced the reopening of the e-mail investigation. A week later, Clinton’s lead had declined by three percentage points. This decrease was even more pronounced in swing states, many of which Clinton eventually lost by only three to four percentage points.
Let’s hand it to the French—they aren’t letting their elections being decided by anything as inconsequential as e-mails, and the French press certainly isn’t guilty of exaggerating the importance of Macron’s e-mails. American media would do well to behave in a similar style in upcoming elections, so that our presidents are chosen based off their own merits, and our elections aren’t determined by random and insignificant controversies surrounding certain presidential candidates.
Europe: Besieged, France: Victorious
Emmanuel Macron is lauded as a general returning from a victorious struggle, as people rejoice in his defeat of the far-right in the recent French election. The youngest French president in the country’s history was able to run a grassroots campaign, uniting the diaspora of French political parties against Marine Le Pen and her National Front. Yet, we cannot afford to rejoice too long in Macron’s victory. Many European nations are facing elections similar to the one that just ended in France, and with each comes a threat towards the stability and prosperity of Europe.
One of the key components of Macron’s platform was his pro-EU stance. Since the 2008 global financial crisis and the subsequent 2012 European crisis, the EU’s effectiveness has been called into question by those wishing to seize upon the dormant streaks of nationalism that reside within their fellow countrymen. It is critical to understand specifically what about the European Union causes this resentment in its member nations, and how that resentment is spun into justification for isolationist and nationalist political platforms.
As a member of the European Union, a country loses a tangible amount of its ability to make policy, most importantly monetary policy. In times of crisis, it is easy for ambitious politicians of wounded nations to play off of the resentment caused by EU monetary policy, and in doing so disregard the years of stability and prosperity the EU has brought. The critical component that has made the EU so effective for so many decades has been its requirement that all members hold the future of the continent as a whole at heart. EU policy is meant to reflect collective interest, which is critical to maintaining European growth across the board and to the benefit of all rather than the benefit of some. A prime example of this collective interest area is the EU’s collective defense treaties, which use member nation funds and troops to protect European interests and security.
And yet, the responsibilities associated with being a member of this kind of organization pose significant challenges towards membership. The most glaring example of this is the European migrant crisis, in which the massive influx of millions of refugees has triggered a surge in xenophobia and isolationism. Even in Germany, the heart of the EU, positive views of the EU have fallen to an all-time low of 29 percent because of their shouldering of the migrant crisis. Because of these issues, we witnessed the rise of the Brexit movement, Le Pen’s brush with victory, and now similar challenges in countries such as Germany, Austria, Sweden, and the Netherlands. All of these contests individually pose a threat to European stability, which only heightens the perceived notions of impending doom.
This is why Macron’s victory is a huge win for the people of France, of Europe, and the world; without it, the European Union would be shattered, and with it, global stability. To preserve their peace, prosperity, and integrity, Europeans must rise to counter the challenge and rhetoric of those who want to divide their continent and sow the seeds of inequality. France may be the catalyst of this heroic stand, but it is how the other elections across Europe play out which will decide the future for decades to come.
The Refugee Deflux
The immediate question on everyone’s lips in the aftermath of Emmanuel Macron’s election is whether it signifies the beginning of the end for the dark wave of populism that has ravaged Europe over the past several years. There’s no way to be sure whether this is simply a short respite or whether this beast has finally been caged for good. Pessimists might point out the fact that there seems to be no reprieve from the constant barrage of terrorist attacks facing Europe, with the recent attacks in Manchester taking 22 victims. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of such terror incidents were committed by second- and third-generation immigrants, like the one who was responsible for the attack in Manchester, whose parents were born in Libya, as opposed to recent ones, whose arrival right-wing politicians and supporters alike are opposed to. Predictably, however, this will do nothing to stop the fear-mongering and Islamophobic, anti-immigration sentiments that allowed right-wing demagoguery to fester and proliferate in the first place.
However, there is a cause for optimism: the fact that the Syrian War seems to be nearing an end, with Assad’s forces having taken Aleppo and close to winning the war, despite the recent American response. The decreasing amounts of violence will cause people to stop fleeing the country at such a high rate and will lead the already decreasing number of refugees to drop even more, especially compared to their levels during the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015. The lowering refugee influx is sure to alleviate some of the fears caused by ignorance and Islamophobia and hopefully reduce some of the major populist parties in Europe back to irrelevance.
While in some countries, such as Poland and Hungary, that ship has already sailed, there is still hope that most of Western Europe will escape the tightening clutches of populism. However, there is a cause for minor consolation: one must take into consideration the fact that Poland has fallen to the sinister, primitive force of theo-fascism in that it is ruled by a religious extremist party which has already banned abortion and taken major strides towards limiting press freedom, and the fact that Hungary is well known for its high rates of xenophobia. Those two elements are less present in Western Europe. Тhat will perhaps prevent Western Europe from succumbing to this dangerous political movement. But as the right has repeatedly shown, human ignorance can never be underestimated and no matter how unfavourable the conditions look for the survival of populism, it always somehow manages to escape through the cracks, namely in the case of Brexit and Trump. Macron’s election, however, delivers a tinge of hope for a future without a right wing based on human folly and ignorance.