In the 2017 presidential election in France, the choice seems easy. On one side, a pro-EU millionaire former investment banker from the bourgeoisie, who has served as presidential Chief of Staff and Minister of Finance and the economy under the outgoing socialist government, and on the other the female leader of a nationalist party described as “far right”, anti-EU and anti-immigration, pledged to exiting the Euro and restoring the Franc.

Emmanuel Macron, the financial technocrat, is a staunch supporter of globalisation, but his programme is sketchy. He wants to reduce taxes and simplify business rules, but has remained mostly silent on the burning problems of mass immigration and terrorism. Not heading a political party, he has assembled in the last few months a coalition of diverse groups and individuals called En Marche (On the March) and he deliberately avoids defining the goal towards which he is marching. Ambivalence is required as there is not much common ground between his supporters, who come partly from liberal business and political factions and partly from the socialist and social-democratic camps. Not fulfilling the legal conditions to get public election financing, Macron has relied on private funds, whose sources have not been revealed so far and which are suspected to be banks, big corporations and wealthy pro-EU patrons. He has led a campaign high on style, but short of substance, aided by his “ideal-son-in-law” physique. His formula consists in assembling new faces around the status quo. While he was in Hollande’s cabinet, Macron began to plot his political race by harnessing resources from his ministry with the implicit blessings of the incumbent President, who apparently hopes to salvage through his protégé some of his highly forgettable legacy.

En Marche is a typical contemporary media phenomenon, which exemplifies many features of Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid society”, in which feelings are more important than facts and perceptions trump (pun intended) realities. What is clear in Macron’s otherwise fuzzy project is his adherence to the EU, NATO, the Bretton Woods structures and Atlantic hegemonism, manifested notably in hostility to Russia and Iran and in unstinting support for Saudi Arabia and the other conservative Arab oil monarchies.

For nearly forty years, the National Front has been a constant presence on the French political scene, as a party of small traders, agriculturists and the lower middle class, with a sprinkling of old nobility. It has slowly, but constantly, grown in size and strength. It may be called a family-centric party (like the Indian National Congress) and carries the trademark of its founder, the larger than life Jean Marie Le Pen, a feisty self-made politician born in a poor family, whose oratorical brilliance, sharp wit, tough image as a former paratrooper and irrepressible jocularity brought success and failure, often all at once.

Despite the ready-made image carried by the mass media, Le Pen—some of whose historic followers are indeed nostalgic far-rightists—is not a fascist, although he certainly is authoritarian and egotistical. He is no racist either, and has throughout his life maintained friendships with Africans and with both Jews and Arabs. He belongs to another era though, and was too politically incorrect and rebellious to raise his party above the 20% ceiling. His daughter and successor Marine, as resilient and eloquent as him, but more pragmatic and a better organiser, was able to break out of the old nationalist-Catholic (and neo-pagan) anti-leftist shell and rebuild the National Front on modern lines after engineering a bitter breakup with her father. She has adopted a social-democrat, anti-privatisation agenda, which won extensive support among former communists, while retaining the fundamentals of the old NF platform: bringing immigration under strict control, opposing the Islamisation of the country, protecting domestic industry from foreign competition and regaining an independent foreign policy, by restoring France’s equidistance between the superpowers, which De Gaulle sought to achieve. Her emphasis on global multipolarity signals her intent to leave NATO.

This programme seems rather reasonable, but it has long attracted the ire of the EU Establishment, which cannot accept any departure from the Brussels and Berlin mandated consensus of “centrist” economic policies, implying open borders and a gradual winding down of social protection systems. The survival of the EU, in its present form, rules out independent divergent economic choices by member-states. In that sense, the latter are effectively under a system of “guided democracy”, which precludes any deviation from the common regime, either to the left or to the right. That has become apparent once again in the wake of the first round of the French election this month, when most EU heads of state and officials rushed to congratulate Macron, prematurely discounting the possibility of a victory by the opposite side, even though the two finalists are only 2 percentage points apart, at a little more than 20% each.

There is speculation that in the unlikely event of a victory of the National Front, the EU, backed by French political and judicial authorities, would find ways to disqualify Le Pen and cancel her election on technical grounds. Yet, the European globalist elite may be repeating the mistake it made when it excluded any prospect for BREXIT, or for Donald Trump’s election. Popular discontent in France runs deep and Macron, who often sounds shrill and cocky, is far from inspiring confidence in the underprivileged majority, despite exhortations to vote for him by his former first round rivals, with the notable exception of the Far-Left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who almost gathered 20% of the vote, but has refused to endorse him.

The split between the western, more prosperous regions, which voted predominantly for Macron and centre-right candidates, and the north, south and east, which favoured Le Pen, partly due to the existence of higher unemployment and a larger number of immigrants (but also to local cultural factors), shows that the country is deeply divided. There are undertones of a new French revolution (a mock guillotine even made an appearance in central Paris), with waves of anarchist violence and incendiary rhetoric on the fringes against a background of political corruption and periodic terrorist attacks.

Macron’s victory is probable, but will not necessarily lead to stability, as he will have to cobble together a government after the next legislative elections, which may not give his disparate, hastily gathered followers a majority. Le Pen as President would have even greater trouble governing, given the unrelenting opposition of all other political parties. The electoral system, which she pledges to reform, has allowed the National Front to win only two seats in the current National Assembly, despite being the largest party in the country.

Geopolitical factors are ostensibly ignored, but they play a critical role. The age-old French distrust of German preponderance is once again leading Nationalists to seek support in Russia and Britain against the allies of the “new Reich” in Berlin. Both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump (though not the US legislative branch) have made no mystery of their preferences for Eurosceptic candidates and both have met with Le Pen (whose party contracted a loan from a Russian bank). Post-Brexit London would also relish an anti-EU French government willing to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with the (not so) United Kingdom.

The EU is a technocratic parliamentary version of earlier Germano-centric projects for a unified Europe going back to medieval times. This current attempt is again meeting with opposition in France and in other states. Even if a distrusted and untested Macron makes it to the Elysee Palace in a nation whose public debt amounts to 100% of GDP, threatened by rising social unrest, the fight is far from over. Calls from Berlin to “oppose French nationalism” are unlikely to have the desired effect and Macron has defined himself as “a patriot who fights nationalism”. A paradox indeed.

 

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