French election explained

French election explained

Une fois n’est pas coutume, je publie ici un résumé en anglais des élections présidentielles, à l’intention de mes amis anglophones

To my English-speaking friends.

 « Macron, a former investment banker and a relatively newcomer to French politics, managed to overcome the two main establishment’s parties to defeat far right candidate Marine Le Pen in a second round face off, saving Europe (and the world) from another wave of xenophobic populism. »

This is my best attempt to summarize what I’ve been reading in the media, especially the international press, on the matter of French presidential election.

Obviously, I profoundly disagree with most of it. So let me share a different story which will surely resonate with all of you.

Let’s start with Emmanuel Macron.

Our new president is young, but his political agenda surely isn’t.

His contribution to French politic started in 2007, when he joined a commission mandated by President Nicolas Sarkozy to make proposals to boost the French economy. The final document advocated market deregulation, reduction in social welfare and shifting the national retirement pension from a public fund into a stock market based private system. The collapse of said stock market and the economic crisis that followed killed the report, but Macron benefited from this experience to build his political network. M. Attali, the head of the Commission, got him a job at Rothschild investment bank where he worked on merger and acquisition for four years, earning 3 million euros in the process. In 2011, he joined Francois Hollande’s presidential campaign. Following his victory, he became President Hollande chief economic advisor, and was eventually promoted minister of Finance and Economic affairs. 

During his five years in the government, he shaped the key economic policies of Hollande presidency: fiscal austerity, social cuts, labor market deregulation and a 40 billion/ year corporation tax break. This supply side economics allowed French largest corporations profit to surge (posting an historical record of 45 billion paid dividends in 2016) while unemployment rose by an additional 1 million, to plateau at 10%. Hollande approval’s rating plummeted to 4% and prevented him from seeking a second term.

Macron skillfully managed to fill the political gap left by the growing unpopularity of the president. Despite presenting himself as an alternative to old politics, he ran on the promise of extending the same policies in order to deeply reform France welfare state and labor market.

Since he’s promoting tax cut for the top 1% and banking deregulation, while maintaining austerity policies, it is safe to label him as the establishment candidate, aligned with Berlin and Brussels neoliberal agenda.


« Macron managed to overcome the two establishment’s political parties, then defeated Le Pen »

 Part of that story his true. Both LR (The Republicans) and PS (Socialist Party) candidates collapsed during the race, the first one on his own doing (after being caught in multiple financial scandals), the second one due to backstabbing from his own party. Indeed, most leaders of the PS publicly or implicitly endorsed Emmanuel Macron and did their best to sabotage their own candidate, whom they considered too leftist to their liking.

Therefore, it is incorrect to say that Macron has no parliament base to govern the country; quite the opposite his true actually, as he is already gathering tremendous support from both sides of political establishment.

What Macron election reveals is a much deeper and shocking truth: there is little to none difference between French right wing LR party (who was in power under Sarkozy and Chirac) and Center left liberal-democrat “PS” (Hollande’s party). They share a similar vision on immigration, security and foreign policies. But more importantly, they govern on the same economic platform: neoliberalism.

If you haven’t noticed yet, this comment applies to Democratic and Republican parties (including the Trump version) in the USA, Tony Blair’s Labor and Cameron’s Tory in the UK, and Merkel’s CDU and Martin Schultz SPD in Germany.

Next, Macron didn’t defeat Marine Le Pen. She essentially did that to herself, with the help of French voters. Partially due to her catastrophic performance at the presidential debate that caped a poorly ran campaign, but mostly because any politician would have won a face off against Le Pen. The reason is simple: Le Pen isn’t UKeep nor Trump. Her party is still fundamentally racist (some would say Nazi) and tends to bring back memories of the darkest hours of French history.

Now, let’s move on to the real story.

 The electoral battle was fought beforehand, during the first round of a two-round election. Almost every time, two clear frontrunners emerged. This year, the race came down to four candidates.

Francois Fillon, from right wing LR party, was battling through scandals and justice prosecutions. His polls went from 30% and guaranteed victory to 17% and guaranteed defeat before a final push brought him only 550,000 votes shy of Le Pen. To the establishment and the media, he or Macron wouldn’t have made a difference, their political platforms were essentially the same on every social, economic, and European issue.

Marine Le Pen, forecasted at 25% for the past three years, saw her polls fall during the last weeks. She was running on a heavily Trump and Brexit inspired campaign, and despite media complacency and implicit support (second largest airing time), she barely made it with 21% of the votes.

The fourth challenger, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, came within 600,000 votes of Le Pen and finished at 20%. If you have not grasped the meaning of his significant run, then you have completely missed the key message of this French Election.

Modern democracies are entering a new order where three teams compete. Team 1 represents Status quo, neoliberalism and political establishment. Bush, Obama, Clinton, Cameron, Blair, Sarkozy, Hollande and so forth who, despite their minor differences, favor globalization and financial capitalism.

Their neoliberal policies exponentially enrich the top 0.1% while impoverishing the middle class and working class; all of this while destroying the environment.

Team 2, represented by Ukeep, Trump and Le Pen, feeds on the damages created by team 1 to advance a xenophobic and nationalistic agenda. They do not challenge the “System”, quite the opposite. Like every fascist government in history, they favor the rich, and show no interest in addressing wealth inequality, global warming or other environmental issues.

Team 1 and 2 work together: the first one feeds the second, the second keeps the first one in power by scaring voters (at least in France). This never ending vicious circle contributes to climate change, endless wars oversea, increase in wealth inequality and consequent racism.

A third team is trying to offer an alternative. Bernie Sanders in the US, Corbyn in the UK, Podemos in Spain and now Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his political movement “France Insoumise” (France Defiant or France Unbowed) are leading this progressive force.

First round results: blue = team 1, black = team 2, red = team 3

Mélenchon candidacy: a progressive agenda 

Instead of pushing for more austerity and slashing government spending to cut social programs, Mr Mélenchon is calling for a 100 billion stimulus to start a green revolution. The plan would take advantage of historically low borrowing rates to invest massively into renewable energy, building infrastructures and shifting the French industrial agriculture towards local networks of cooperative organic farms.

The second aspect of his program aims to address wealth inequality by extending social healthcare, free education and public services. This plan was fully financed by a fiscal reform which would cut taxes for 90% of the French and increase it for the top 10%, with a 90% tax rate for earnings above 400k/year. Capital gains and wages would have been treated equally, which would have allowed significant tax cut for the working class.

Finally, he proposes to call an election to re-write the French constitution in order to shift towards institutions that intend to be more democratic. The idea is to strengthen citizens’ power against special interests. Thus, his proposal included a major effort to fight tax evasion (which cost 80 billion to French tax payer each year), alongside anti-corruption laws and extended democratic processes.  

Obviously, this humanist plan received fierce opposition by French political figures and traditional media outlets (especially by the so-called left). Mélenchon was portrayed as a populist, a hopeful dictator, a communist, pro-Poutine, pro-Chavez, pro-Castro, pro-Assad and even anti-Semitic. Quite similar to what Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn had to deal with in their respective countries.

It is fair to say that Jean-Luc Mélenchon comes from the “center left” PS, which he broke up with following the 2005 campaign on the referendum for the European Union constitution.

His political analysis was widely shared by the French left then. Under current rules, the Europe Union organizes competition between nations and within each nation, instead of encouraging cooperation. The result is catastrophic. It pushes European people against each other instead of bringing them together, provokes the rise of fascism and puts far-right xenophobic governments in power (such as in Hungary, Poland and Finland). The conclusion is rather simple: a progressive political platform is incompatible with EU as it currently stands.

This is why, on top of his Keynesian-environmentalist agenda, Melenchon is calling for disobedience towards Brussel and Berlin in order to break from austerity measures and push forward the most ambitious plan for a Green Economy. By addressing the environment and social challenges, his goal was to create a new dynamic which could save Europe from itself, neoliberalism and its fascist counterparts. Unlike Macron, he was planning to negotiate new European treaties designed to rescue EU.

To summarize the logic: 1) Recognize that the priority is the environment, something that concerns everyone (and not only a specific class). 2) Create the jobs required to fix the environmental crisis while redistributing wealth and profit more equally. 3) Putting in place new institutions to give more democratic power to the citizens and 4) Fixing the EU so that all these wonderful ideas become applicable in a globalized world.

So, to come back to my initial statement, it is quite unlikely that Macron will save Europe and more plausible that it will precipitate its fall. Melenchon, on the other end, is offering an alternative to the status quo and the rise of xenophobia. 

The most impressive fact might be that La France Insoumise managed to claim back 30% of Le Pen voters among the youth and 25% among working class. If anyone defeated Marine Le Pen, it is Melenchon and his movement.

Team 3 fell 600,000 votes short of making history. Perhaps in your country, somebody will pick up the fight?

Mélenchon political rally, Toulouse, April 2017


What’s next for France ?

In June, the French people will vote again, for the parliament this time. Macron hopes to obtain a majority, while Melenchon is trying to gain sufficient support to build a solid opposition, or even challenge Macron’s ability to govern.

Based on French institution mechanism and mainstream media unconditional support to Macron (and the two establishment parties who will eventually support him), Melenchon chances are extremely thin.

However, only 40% voters elected Macron (once corrected by spoiled votes) in the lowest turnout in modern French history (74.7%). Among those Macron backers, 60% declared doing so to beat Le Pen while only 10% of the registered voters supported his political platform in the first round.

Second round results, including all french people eligible to vote.

It brings me to this summer, which should be particularly hot in France. Macron has pledged to use executive orders to rewrite the labor laws. Last year, Francois Hollande’ first stab at it was met by continuous strikes, large protests and multiples “occupy” types of movements. The government used Emergency State (a specific measure put in place to address terrorist threats) to arrest political opponents, while social movements were met by brutal police forces. The violence escalated from both sides, with law enforcement officers suffered burns by Molotov cocktails while protesters were sent to hospitals by the hundreds.

When everything else fails, you can count on the French to take it to the street.    

April 28, 2016 in Lyon, southeastern France. / AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES




When I write in french I carefully source my assertions and claims, however since I do not want to flood you with links to dozens of french papers, please ask me details on assertion in the comment section.


4 réactions au sujet de « French election explained »

  1. As an American living in France, I really appreciate the insightful views that you have on both French and American politics! It seems that people are usually uninformed about what goes on in other countries (or consume a narrative by the media rather than popular opinion) so you are doing very necessary work on both sides. The blog is of course biased towards the left-wing, but well researched, without the hateful rhetoric that is sadly persistent in much media these days. Thank you so much and keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you ! The blog is indeed oriented towards a leftist point of view. My earlier articles where more trying to convey two opposite views, but it is difficult to go against your own opinions (everybody who pretends to be neutral should be regarded with the greatest suspicion). Also, it is quite difficult these days to find leftist alternative opinions in the mainstream medias, so I’d rather offer an alternative and « well researched » view than trying to stay « neutral ». Thank you again for your support 🙂

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