Right-Wing Populism Permeates French Presidential Elections
Thursday, March 30, 2017
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
France is headed to the polls on April 23rd, for choosing a president. At the moment, the two frontrunners are nearly tied at the polls, one is the far right candidate, Marine Le Pen, and the other is former French Economic Minister, Emmanuel Macron, who is considered a neo-liberal centrist.
What is unique about these elections is that neither of the leading candidates come from the country’s traditional main political parties, the socialist party, or the conservative party. These parties are in severe upheaval at the time.
Instead, we have a slightly head in the polls as the far right candidate, Marine Le Pen, who’s running on an anti-Europe, anti-immigrant platform, and a second, the 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron, who is running as a centrist in a party called, En Marche! He had never held office in the past, at least not elected office.
Joining us now to discuss the latest on the French elections is Renaud Lambert. Renaud is an editor of the monthly newspaper, Le Monde diplomatique.
Thanks for joining us today, Renaud.
RENAUD LAMBERT: Thank you for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Renaud, there are about four weeks left to leading up to the French elections. First tell us what the process is, because this is a run-off election, and then there’ll be another set of elections, from what I understand. And second, what is the situation in terms of the major parties, and the reason why they don’t have a candidate running that is headed in the polls right now?
RENAUD LAMBERT: Right. So yeah, in France we have two runs with the election, so whenever we go to the polls for the first run, we’re going to in all likelihood select two candidates. At the moment, it looks like Marine Le Pen is going to be one of them, and the big question, who’s going to be second, and then we go into the second round in order to decide who’d be president.
I should stress that there are more than five candidates, although the media and the polls, seem to have decided that only five of them deserve to be talked about. For the media, the reason is, that the smaller candidates don’t poll well, but of course, you have a vicious circle whereby the polls are bad, therefore the media don’t talk about the small candidates, and the polls get worse.
So, five of them have been pre-selected by the media, and as you say, the two from the usual, traditionally big parties in France, are running behind. And the question is why. Well, I think it’s because in France we’re witnessing exactly what we have seen in other countries like the UK, like America, the States. Where the extreme center parties that have traditionally led the same types of policies, neo-liberal policies, a little bit more to the right, a little bit more to the left, there, people are fed up with them.
People want to just change this, and instead, what you are witnessing is the rise of a form of right wing populism, Marine Le Pen in France, Trump in the States, and of course, UKIP in the U.K., and an attempt to overtake traditional social democratic, social liberal parties to the left.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. So, give us a sense of Marine Le Pen, how popular she is, and how did she do in the debates, and is it looking like another Donald Trump kind of election campaign, where the far right rises up and takes power?
RENAUD LAMBERT: Well, I wouldn’t attempt to give you a prognostic on what’s going to happen. The situation is very volatile. We observe sudden surges, sudden collapses, anything could happen. Anything from scandals, to a terrorist attack in France, so, you know, we don’t know what’s going to happen. Marine Le Pen is doing very well.
She’s reaping the benefit from the lack of will from the entire political spectrum, the lack of consideration for the problems that globalization in France, the European Union, have posed to the common people. So, she, as you said, is going on the platform of anti-immigrant, and anti-EU, but she’s pretending, she’s posing as the people’s candidate. She says, you know, that their lives are going to improve with her. And I think, as we arrive towards the day of the polls, she has to say a little bit more about what she’s going to do.
Today or yesterday, I can’t remember, she talked in front of the main private sector organization, and a couple of days ago there was an article in Le Monde, big newspaper in France, about how investors, foreign investors, were scared about France leaving the EU. And what we see when the Front, is faced with private sector, with finance, is that they take a different stance.
For instance, with to the private sector she explains she wanted longer working hours. People in France don’t want that. She wanted further deregulation of working laws. People in France do not want that. And regarding the EU, she appointed a former banker to carry out the European dossier for her, and the man explains that he’s a market man, and I’m quoting. He was a banker for Natixis, a couple of other banks, and the article that came out recently, explains that when they talk to him, investors seem to be reassured.
So, what is coming to the surface, is the fact that the Front National’s platform is not possible. They cannot at the same time make life easier for the private sector, and fulfill the promise of making life better for the working people. So, this is coming to the fore. I think it won’t be news enough for people to turn away from her and choose another option.
SHARMINI PERIES: And how are the people responding to the anti-EU sentiment? Is it like Britain, in the sense that people are eager to leave the EU because of the refugee situation?
RENAUD LAMBERT: The refugee situation certainly has poured salt on the wound, but the wound was there much earlier. I think what you’re witnessing in France is, again, similar to what you’re witnessing in other countries, is you have winners and losers from the globalization process. The winners live in big cities, they have intellectual jobs, service jobs, higher paid jobs. They’re younger, they speak different languages, they travel, and to them the EU is great, because they can go to another country. They don’t have to change currencies, it’s all perfect and they can devote time to such ideals as solidarity and, you know, being nice to your neighbor.
And then you have losers of this globalization process, people who have consciously been pitted in a very tough competition against other workers. This is what the EU has done for most people –- working people –- you know? Placing them in a situation where they have to compete with workers from Poland, and other places, and to these people while the EU has not worked, you know, they don’t have the money to travel that much.
They don’t care about having to change the currency when they cross the frontier because they don’t do it so often, no? And they tend to live away from big cities, because they don’t have the money to enjoy big city life, and then you have… so, these people are the losers of this globalization process, what has been implemented by this extreme center.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And tell us about Emmanuel Macron. He’s also a banker, I understand, in terms of his past. He was the former Economic Minister. And I said centrist, but what does that all mean?
RENAUD LAMBERT: Well, I guess what you might have meant, is that the man presents himself as neither, a right nor left, which usually in France, as elsewhere, means that you’re to the right of the political spectrum. And the interesting… Emmanuel Macron, is that he’s presenting, he’s posing, as an anti-system candidate. And really, when you look at his background, former banker, former finance minister for the current president, the man embodies the system. He is the system. You know?
Whereas, whether you talk about the political system, the financial system… But, we receive so much media help, so much media support in our polling that he’s been able to put forward this image of the different guy. He’s got a new type of attitude. He’s younger and looks different, you know?
But the thing is, Macron is going to be one of the elements that he’s going to awaken the socialist party tremendously. The biggest figures from the socialist party are now supporting Macron, even though they organized primaries. Which meant that they were supposed to bring their support to the selected candidate, and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, he’s now supporting Macron, and you have all these cliques of high-ranking socialists, who are now behind Macron.
One of the positive things that might happen after this election, is the breaking apart of the socialist party with a center right party around Macron, Valls and Hamon, and let them drift to the right, and the possibility of a leftist under-group breaking apart and who knows, joining forces with Mélenchon, or organizing something different. This might be -– and I say might be –- the one positive outcome of the upcoming election.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. But the socialists are running a candidate, Benoit Hamon and candidate that is representing Hamon’s party. So, how is he faring in the election process at the moment?
RENAUD LAMBERT: Well, not so well. His polls are going down. And, as you say, he is a candidate for the Socialist Party, but the big problem for him is that he is not receiving support from the bigwigs in the party, which suggests that if he were in power, he would have to attempt to unify such a diverse political party and certainly this would pull him to the right.
So, people are seeing that Hamon is not so convincing a candidate. At the moment, his polls are going down and this is a boost to Mélenchon, but Mélenchon is still fourth in the polls.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mélenchon is the far left candidate, Jean-Paul Mélenchon. Tell us about how he’s doing in the election and is there a left turn here at all?
RENAUD LAMBERT: Well, there was a big debate between five of the candidates, and Mélenchon fared very well. He was funny, first of all, and everybody likes to laugh a little bit during an election debate. They tend to be boring and dull in France.
SHARMINI PERIES: I understand they’re three and a half hours, the last debate.
RENAUD LAMBERT: It was. It was, but, I mean, you could actually watch it. You know, it was very interesting. And Mélenchon is very good. He was very sharp, and he has a project. He’s the only candidate who actually came up with figures. Now, you have hours and hours of presentations of these figures online, and when I say hours and hours, I know that it sounds very dull, and very boring, but, no, they’ve done an amazing job at presenting exactly how they would go about their business. And trying to steer Europe in a different direction, in this Europe… and if Brussels doesn’t want then, you know, … to leave Europe.
So, there is a kick-off to the Mélenchon campaign, but you know, he’s running fourth. There are a lot of people who don’t want to vote for him because they’re still attached to the socialist party, and at this stage I find it hard to believe that he could make it to the second round.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. There are two critical dates, April 16th, for the runoff election and then the actual presidential elections, I understand will be held May 7th. What do you expect will happen in the runoff, and I know I’m asking you to predict, but based on what we know so far, and you said the situation is unpredictable, unexpected, but based on what we know so far, what do you think will happen on April 7th?
RENAUD LAMBERT: From what we know so far, the scenario is Le Pen first, Macron second, and then you have a runoff between the two. But what could happen in the meantime? Fillon is embroiled in massive scandals. I mean, it is ridiculous at this stage. Not only did the guy embezzle money to pay his wife, to give money to his kids, but later on we found out, the French people found out, that the money he had given to his kids he asked for the money back. I mean, he’s not even like Corleone, you know — looking after his family — and the guy is welcomed by eggs being thrown at him, during his campaign. It is a total disaster. He’s holding on.
But who knows? Every day gives enough to convince any decent politician to just, you know, give up. If he were to give up, which I’m not saying he will do, but if he were to give up, this would change a lot of things, you know, because a third place would be possible, and then who knows what’s going to happen to Macron. He is a fragile candidate. You know, to a certain extent he is a media bubble. He is responding to a desire there would not be so many people talking about it, talking about him. But he is so helped by the media, that these types of bubbles, sometimes they do explode, and then anything could be happening. But at this stage unfortunately…
SHARMINI PERIES: Tell us a little bit about his party, En Marche! What is it?
RENAUD LAMBERT: …”Marshé”
SHARMINI PERIES: What does it represent, and is there momentum behind him?
RENAUD LAMBERT: Like I say, there is a massive media momentum. And for instance, when the socialist party held its primaries, Macron didn’t take part, but the day after, the front page of most newspapers were talking about whether the result was good or bad for Macron. You know, the prism is always Macron, Macron.
Now, he has organized a couple of meetings where there were a lot of people, you know, and obviously some people are drawn to him. People who want for the system to carry on, Macron is a continuity candidate, neo-liberal. He wants to further deregulate working regulations in France. He wants to reinforce EU integration. For anyone winning for things to carry on, and to basically swallow the crisis we’re going through, at the moment and hope that things are going to be okay, Macron would be their candidate at the moment, and these people exist in France.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Renaud, I thank you so much for joining us today, and we’ll be keeping an eye on it, and we’ll be looking forward to having you back.
RENAUD LAMBERT: Thank you for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.