By Horus Alas
On April 23, French citizens cast their ballots in the first round of their presidential elections. In all, 11 candidates ran for the highest office in the French Fifth Republic.
Based on France’s electoral process, those 11 candidates each had an opportunity to secure a majority of the French popular vote. Doing so would have granted the victorious candidate the presidency on April 23.
Since no single candidate obtained 50 percent of the vote, the race will ultimately be decided by a runoff election between the two leading candidates on May 7.
The final two contenders thus became centrist Emmanuel Macron, who founded his own political party, En Marche! just over a year ago, and far-right populist Marine Le Pen, who until recently led the Front National party.
As far as political orthodoxy goes, both candidates are outsiders.
France has been predominantly governed by a handful of parties since its current constitution was enacted in 1958. Since the ‘80s, the Socialist Party has consistently performed well at the ballot box, producing nine of the past 15 Prime Ministers.
But as media outlets worldwide have been noting with gusto, the French Socialist Party isn’t what it used to be. Socialist President François Hollande has seen his approval ratings plummet, and after some contentious infighting, the Socialists put forth Benoît Hamon on their presidential ticket.
Hamon managed to capture just six percent of the popular vote during Sunday’s election, far behind Macron’s 24 percent and Le Pen’s 21 percent.
In the aftershock of Donald Trump’s presidential victory and Brexit, many commentators have been drawing parallels between this recent wave of populist movements and France’s potential move in that same direction.
Le Pen exhibits a number of the same reactionary stances that characterized the insurgent Trump campaign.
She has called for a 10,000-person entry cap on immigration and wants to limit government programs that would help immigrant communities. In response to terrorist threats, Le Pen has threatened to revoke French citizenship from dual-nationality Muslims.
Economically, Le Pen opts for protectionary measures that would insulate French businesses from foreign competition. To that end, she proposes dropping the Euro as a national currency and returning to the Franc—a move economists claim would bankrupt the country.
By extension, if France were to drop the Euro as its currency, it would mean a French departure from the European Union—a “Frexit.” The consequences thereof, economically and geopolitically, would be difficult to overstate.
France has the third-largest economy in Europe, after Germany and the U.K. Its close political and economic alliance with Germany in the postwar era has largely been the underpinning of the European Union as a bloc of sovereign European states.
And if France were to depart the union it helped establish, it’s tenuous to see Germany remaining at the de facto head of the E.U. without the strong economic benefits of French trade.
In short, a French departure from the Eurozone as envisioned by Le Pen would dramatically destabilize the continent and pose an existential threat to the continuation of the European Union.
Le Pen also advocates for closer ties with Russia. Please stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.
The end of the European Union would mean a decisive shift in the balance of power in the world as we know it.
With the United States toying with militarism under Trump and the U.K. ejecting itself from the ideal of a united Europe, a rapid balkanization of the small states of Europe could ensue if France decides to leave the E.U.
This single election in one of the most culturally-relevant nations in the world should hold our attention with eager interest.
Like the U.K. and U.S., France is now presented with a choice that threatens to throw their nation and our collective world into disarray. As John Oliver noted last week, the French have an opportunity to demonstrate that their baguettes, croissants, Côtes du Rhones, etc. do in fact make them better human beings than us anglophones, who allowed sinister, reactionary forces to steer our political zeitgeist.
On May 7, Macron will face off against Le Pen to determine the fate of France, and by extension, the European Union. The defeated candidates and parties are scrambling to throw their support behind Macron and block Le Pen’s path to victory.
You should watch results as though the world depends on it.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo credit courtesy of Remi Noyon on Flickr.
Horus Alas is a senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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