Will France get their own Brexit/Trump situation?
By John Looby
Co-Editor in Chief
As the United States carries on in the wake of the election of a populist anti-establishment politician, the rest of the world is facing the same tense political climate. In the domino chain started by Brexit and Trump, the next to fall could very well be the French presidency. Far right Populist Marine Le Pen is following the same playbook that allowed Trump to take the White House. Her support is coming from statistically speaking, less educated voters from rural areas. Le Pen appeals to the voters on the basis of nationalist rhetoric, an anti-EU stance, and a hardline stance on Islam and immigration. The American electorate is more than familiar with this type of Candidate. What they might not be well aware of is the consequences should the French election go in favor of Le Pen.
Le Pen’s party National Front, first lead by her father Jean-Marie, has a long history of questionable stances, as he has faced criminal charges for previous statements about the holocaust. Le Pen has done what she can to normalize the party image, going so far as to oust her own father from the party. Ultimately, it seems as though the party is just putting a more pleasant coat of paint over its far-right tendencies. Le Pen is still a candidate in favor of closing mosques and aggressively clamping down on immigration in an effort to keep France French, something which comes across as inherently xenophobic. Furthermore, Le Pen is an aggressive secularist, which at first glance may read as a non-issue if one was unaware that Le Pen primarily uses France’s historic separation of church and state to discriminate against the Muslim community in France.
Outside the French Muslim community, Le Pen spells danger for the European Union at large. Le Pen would see France like the United Kingdom before it holds a referendum on membership of the EU as well as a swift exit from the Eurozone. Such an effort would not only drastically destabilize the EU, it could potentially be disastrous for both the Euro and the returning franc. France, alongside Germany, has been an economic mainstay of the Euro and the drastic departure could be mayhem for both France and the EU. This is to say nothing of Le Pen’s desire to depart NATO. Le Pen, like Trump before being an actual head of state, sees NATO as obsolete and a drain of her nation’s resources. Given the recent French history of being invaded and overtaken, one might imagine that France would in favor of a unified international defense front.
Recent terrorist attacks have given Le Pen a bump in the polls as Trump himself commented, but that doesn’t mean the French people lack alternatives. Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, presents what liberal Americans will feel as a more pleasant alternative. Former President Obama went just short of personally endorsing the candidate in a widely broadcasted phone call between the two of them. Macron presents what is for France a moderate liberal position. He is in favor of remaining within the EU and by many regards is pro-European on the whole. Macron’s stance on immigration and Islam are drastically different than Le Pen’s as well. Macron sees no problem with France being welcoming to refugees, holding a similar stance to Angela Merkel’s policies in Germany. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Macron is that he founded his own party for this election and from there rose to be the favorite to win the election. For an American politician, that is quite simply not possible to pull off. Macron represents a viable option outside the establishment that is not a far right nationalist something, which feels rarer and rarer these days.
The first round of the French election has left us with Le Pen and Macron facing off in the second round to see who will become the president. Macron edging out Le Pen’s 21% by close to 3 % is an encouraging indication for liberals given that one can assume that many of the liberal votes that went to other candidates in the first round will flock to Macron in rejection of Le Pen’s more extreme policies. While recent terrorist incidents have caused alarm among the French public, the historic trend of rejecting the National Front’s candidates resoundingly in the election would suggest that Macron can still clinch the presidency despite what some are calling a light hand on Islam. The second round of voting comes on May 7th, and will decide whether the global order shifts to the direction of far right conservative populist or continues the centuries-long trend of pushing in the direction of liberal progression. A lot is hanging in the balance and the American public could afford to look out beyond its own borders.