2017 is election year across Europe. As well as upcoming Dutch elections (which we’ve been covering here), voters in France, Germany, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic will all be heading to the ballot box later in the year.
The first round of the French presidential election will take place on 23 April, and there is everything to play for. The centre-right candidate, François Fillon, was widely expected to be all but guaranteed victory until a scandal involving allegedly employing his wife for “fake work” erupted.
There is now the real possibility that the former economic minister and centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, could pull off a shock victory. And, of course, the possibility still exists that France could have its “Trump” or “Brexit” moment, with the far-right Marine Le Pen emerging triumphant.
We had a comment from Byron, who thinks the Front National could take 25% of the vote in the first round of the French presidential elections. Is he right? Opinion polls certainly seem to back him up (though Macron has recently snatched pole position). If so, why are so many voters backing the Front National?
Well, Byron, 25% is roughly where she is now in the polls. People are backing her partly because they’re fed up. They feel that the country has been stagnant for a decade; high unemployment, low economic growth, concerns about immigration, and the middle class feel that they’re losing their footing in society, that their future is not secure. So, there’s a temptation among a lot of people to go for a stronger brand, also because of a sense that the existing political class is self-serving and has been involved in corruption.
That also explains what you see also in America and in Britain; nationalism in the form of Donald Trump, protectionism in the form of Brexit with a sort of British isolationism, and in France too there are people who want to try a nationalistic experiment. However, I’m not convinced that she has the power to get from 25%, if that’s what she gets in the first ballot, to 50% plus one vote. Because her economic policies scare a lot of people; people who have something to lose, people who have savings or property, people who are understandably scared of the experiment of leaving the euro, leaving the European Union, and converting back to Francs. So, I think, in the end their pocket book will get the better of their gut feelings.
We also had a comment from Carmela, suggesting that people were voting for nationalist, populist parties like the Front National as a protest vote against the establishment. Is she right?
To get a response, we put her comment to Shahin Vallée, former advisor to Emmanuel Macron, and former advisor to then-European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. What would he say?
I think it runs deeper than a protest vote, and I think we have to pay some respect to the fact that economic globalisation, European integration, and technological progress – that are all good things in principle – have actually had quite profound redistributional effects in our economy. And it tends to be the same people that have benefited from these three very powerful forces, and the same people who have suffered from these very powerful forces. And I think there’s been, I think we can say, a failure both at the European and national level to compensate the losers of globalisation, European integration, and technological progress properly.
So, it’s no surprise that those people who feel they have lost from these events are turning against the EU now. And I think in some sense we have to take heed of the Le Pen vote, not marginalise and castigate these voters as just a simple bunch of xenophobes who have not understood the great merits and benefits of progress, globalisation, and European integration. We have to understand that actually it’s a fact that the progress brought by these forces hasn’t been uniformly shared. So, those who argue against Le Pen and in favour of openness, European integration and technological progress, I think it demands from them to find concrete responses to some of the pitfalls that come inevitably with these forces.
Why do people vote for Marine Le Pen? Is it because so many French voters have been “left behind” by globalisation? Do they support her radical economic programme, or are they worried that leaving the Euro presents too big a risk? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!