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EU triumph or chance for populists' revenge: Reverse side of French presidential elections

Author : Kostiantyn Fedorenko

Source : eurointegration.com.ua

The first round of the French presidential elections is over. Perhaps, it ended with the best possible results
23:48, 26 April 2017

Read the original article at eurointegration.com.ua

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The first round of the French presidential elections is over. Perhaps, it ended with the best possible results. In the second round, this country managed to avoid the "derby of euroskeptics" or confrontation between two politicians who have close ties with the leadership of the Russian Federation.

Instead, in the second round will compete the most pro-European politician of France Emmanuel Macron and leader of the National Front party Marine Le Pen. On the chances of Le Pen speaks the candidate of the socialists Benoit Hamon: "It’ll be better to support political enemy than the enemy of country."

Similar results of the first round experts predicted long ago. After several major sensations in important voting that took place in 2016, we can say that the centers conducting the polls have now rehabilitated - the polls of recent weeks are not too different from the election results.

However, although the result was not too surprising, it is worth noting that stress during the presidential race - and especially in the last week or two - was at a very high level.

This is due in particular to the fact that in about mid-April Macron ratings, according to polls of several organizations sagged slightly. As a result, Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon were at the distance of statistical error from Macron’s victory.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon during themost time of the race seemed minor candidate, but was able to have a great debate on April 4 and the survey of the audience voted him the most convincing candidate. As a result, his ranking rose from about 16% according to a survey conducted in early April, to 19.6% in the last elections.

So against the background of the failure of the Socialist Party, whose leader Francois Hollande was unable to implement many of its promises and significantly change the socio-economic situation in French society, not surprisingly, many left-wing voters switched to support more radical Mélenchon.

Interestingly, that Mélenchon’s slogans regarding foreign relation crossed with slogans of Marine Le Pen, who is seemingly at the opposite ideological pole: criticism of the EU, the promise of a referendum on EU membership, foreign trade protectionism, criticism of the US and not too hidden sympathy to Putin's Russia.

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Moreover, in the rhetoric of Le Pen to protect the interests of French workers against cheap foreign labor left socio-economic aspect was combined with the right, openly xenophobic.

EU criticized both candidates because of distance from the "ordinary people" and for imposing solutions to nation-states - a fairly standard statement for modern skeptics.

Another candidate - Francois Fillon - was not so clear opponent of the European Union in its current form. He didn’t said like Le Pen, that EU should die, he didn’t consider like Mélenchon that France should impose its EU reform plan aimed at returning a significant portion of sovereignty to the level of states or leave the union.

However, like many other moderate eurosceptical politicians, Fillon said that the EU supranational bodies still have too many powers - and, in particular, criticized the European Commission, whose composition is quite indirectly linked to the will of the voters.

Thus, as The Globalist considers, Fillon’s program combined eurosceptical position with strengthening the euro zone possibilities to keep the overall fiscal policy - the last many economists called one of the possible solutions of the many problems associated with the euro. Also Fillon, as his radical opponents, spoke of the need for cooperation with Putin's Russia.

At the start of his campaign Fillon seemed as the main contender. But it quickly changed. In January this year one of the French newspapers published an article alleging that a he has provided false employment for his wife as his assistant, who thus received funds from the state budget. Fillon's wife and his two children received a total of 900 thousand euro from budget. On this occasion, the proceedings were opened.

By that time Fillon’s ratings were falling. Some of his voters were apparently attracted by a more direct and radical expressions of Le Pen; the other part – by centrist and eurooptimist Macron.

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But allegations of corruption were still a huge blow to Republican electoral prospects: in mid-January Fillon could expect about a quarter of all votes, at the beginning of February - less than 20%.

His opponent Macron was initially criticized for the lack of a clear program; to some extent this is true – it was difficult to define his ideological affiliation. Some suggestions from the economic component of his program aimed at improving the lives of the poorest sections of society. On the other hand, he wants to lower the corporate tax and, although he does not cancel the 35-hour week, believes that companies should be able to agree on a greater number of working hours.

Definitely we can say one thing: Macron is a eurooptimist and, unlike his competitors, a fairly liberal supporter of migration policy.

However, like other centrist politicians today, he stated the need for tighter controls on the external borders of the EU and quick consideration of applications for refugee status, followed by the deportation of those whose applications were denied. In this respect he is very similar to Angela Merkel.

None of the polls for the second round of presidential elections to be held on May 7, gives chances to Le Pen; the gap between main contenders is more than 15%. Does this mean that Europe can be calm?

On the one hand, the markets reacted very positively to the results of the French elections; market shares in France showed the best result in the last nine years, while the euro had the best course against the dollar from last June (i.e., from Brexit).

France already received victorious communiques from the centrist politicians from all over Europe, including greetings from the press secretary of Angela Merkel. One can predict that many experts have written that a new page in the history of the EU is turned, and fear changed to positive expectations.

On the one hand, Macron’s victory for Europe - is a very positive result. But if he fails to gain the popularity as a president, and given the current trend of polarization of French politics, it is not excluded that in the next presidential elections in France the chances of radicals will increase.

For example, in contrast to many European countries where right-wing candidates are supported by older voters, in French polls among the youngest voters - 25 years old - Le Pen is second. Mélenchon is  first.

The greatest support for Le Pen is in middle age people; old French tend to more balanced choice.

It can be expected that the weakening of Republicans and Socialists will continue in the near future if they cannot find a charismatic politicians who can offer voters something new. This creates an opportunity for revenge of populists.

It seems that Macron will have to make important decisions related to the future of Europe.

But what way the EU should go? Should it accept the idea of "Europe of different speeds", when a group of EU member states can agree on closer integration in a certain area? How to convince voters that seemingly attractive idea of returning powers to the national level – is not the best option, and that the EU as a single united structure, at least on economic issues, a much stronger?

There are many questions - and 39-year-old politician would be one of those whose voice will be important to determine the future of the EU.

This summer he will have to fight to get an influential faction in parliament. To defeat major parties - the Socialists and the Republicans, but with their strong local structures it will be difficult.

Rather, Macron would rely on a small group of MPs and will have to agree on many key issues with other parties. This will further complicate his enough difficult future presidency.

Eurooptimists in France, of course, won a brilliant victory. This is great news for the EU, especially given the declining popularity Eurosceptics in Germany, where elections will be held in autumn.

However, this victory may be the only one episode of the story. Therefore, an important task stands before the supporters of united Europe - to hold and defend their victory.

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