If one were to use sporting terms, 2016/2017 has been an immensely worrying – albeit interesting – season of politics. All suggested that it would be the season of the ‘people’, of the left-behind working man, that at its center would be the battle between the forgotten and the global elite. The next domino stone of this nationalist insurgent seemed destined to fall as Donald Trump climbed the stairs of the White House and the United Kingdom took a header down the steps of the European Parliament. However, as the Netherlands has acted a little more ‘normal’ and rejected the ‘wrong kind of populism’, in the words of Prime-Minister Rutte, Western political development saw a rejection of the nationalist incumbents and with that a safe escape to more centrist and conventional parties. Now, as France’s election is coming up with two anti-EU and market-skeptical candidates – Jean Luc Mélenchon is downright anti-market – are estimated to lose, as well as a general election in the United Kingdom, many hope that this trend can continue and Western democracies can once again rely on moderates to run the country.
Today (April 23), three days after another IS-claimed terrorist attack, is the day that the French will take to the polls. Under a loud a voté, as is tradition under de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic, their vote will be cast and their most important civic duty satisfied. Contrary to convention in the Fifth Republic, however, an independent candidate is leading the polls, with the runner-up and the number three being independents as well. As already stated in the previous paragraph, the election seems torn between populists and more conventional candidates. Torn – almost binary – between progress and backwardness. France, as one of the three main founding countries of the European Union, still is one of the driving forces behind the Union. Now, with Brexit, Trump, Erdogan and Putin already threatening the connecting element of the continent, the people of France have the power to bring the final catastrophic blow to the project. One that was created not only to further trade and commerce, but to work together on projects that take decades to accomplish, to fight climate change as well as create a powerful bond to protect its people from a repeat of the great wars at the beginning of the Twentieth century.
Bluntly, a victory by either Le Pen or Jean-Luc Mélenchon – both independents – would be an outright disaster. Both take anti-EU and anti-immigration stands and as such pose immediate threats to the European Union as well as create nothing but conflict within the French government itself. Mélenchon, who is a traditional Trotskyist, does add some of his own hard-left ingredients, 100 billion in social spending in an already in-debt country for example, all in all, however, their would-be presidency reflects rather the same type of EU-loathing and anti-elite sentiment. That leaves two candidates who have an actual chance of winning the election: Macron, the Socialist economy minister turned liberal internationalist and the scandal-scarred Thatcherite conservative Fillon.
Mr Fillon, the Republican candidate, is a well-known figure in the French establishment – a true ‘swamp habitant’ if you will. In a country that has long been a staple of big government and strong, charismatic presidents, the hard-right Fillon dares to campaign with pro-market ideas that include deregulation, a higher pensioning age and drastic cuts in social spending. However, as he has taken 900.000 euros of state money to pay family members for ‘work’ – doing nothing – he turns his powerful claims of change in mere hypocrisy. We then find Macron, the political newcomer. He started his movement En Marche! only yesteryear. As of yet, his only government experience is as economy minister under François Hollande, whom he frequently opposed with more liberal-oriented views. His plans include drastic cuts in social spending, progressive social policy and more collaboration with the European Union. The social-liberal candidate rejects the traditionalist views of his Republican opponent and does not care for deep relationships with Russia.
Many disregard him for his centrist views with Le Pen noting that he ‘can’t decide’. Those who support the idea that one has to hold a dogmatic position that can be easily categorized and sorted on the political spectrum frankly does not understand democracy. As with any democracy, what matters is the will of the people, whether that’s a little leftist in terms of social ideas and a little right-wing in terms of economy does not matter the slightest bit. After all, we can conclude that the French elections show, as with the Dutch elections – note this article – an escape to a safe center. Disregarding the hard-right under Le pen, the hard-left under Mélenchon and the Catholic conservative Fillon leaves a void for just one pro-EU, pro-market, Russian-skeptic, non-stealing, social-liberal candidate: Emmanuel Macron. En Marche!