The French Presidential Elections of 2017

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

I’ve been trying to get a grasp on the candidates before the election tomorrow. The following article comprises those notes and impressions. Maybe it will help someone else, but be aware that my primary sources are not French (though I did read through a few Wikipedia pages on candidates in French). As always, grain of salt, YMMV etc. etc.

I’ve read more widely, but the citations below come from three articles, Big Stakes in the French Presidential Election: Governance Versus the People by Diana Johnstone (CounterPunch) and The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty by Diana Johnstone (CounterPunch) and France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface by Diana Johnstone (CounterPunch).

Diana Johnstone (Wikipedia) “is an American political writer based in Paris, France”. She has been writing about the French elections since Marine Le Pen’s initial rise in 2012 and also wrote Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton during the most recent elections.

How It Will Work

Tomorrow is the first round of a possible two-round election. If a candidate receives over 50% of the vote, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the top two candidates will have a run-off election.

The electoral dynamics are naturally different for the two votes. Winning the first round in no way guarantees winning the second round. The talking heads of the French, European and American political analysis are promising that, though the right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen is a shoe-in to get to the second run, she will neither win outright nor win the second round. They consider her politics extreme enough that the French will retreat to the safety of whichever candidate gets through to oppose her.

As of a few days ago, this looked to be Emmanuel Macron, the otherwise unknown establishment darling who is saying all of the things that the elite want to hear.

One is leery of imparting American labels on a French process, but the nativist, right-wing candidate who is considered unelectable against the inevitable neoliberal neocon masking as a quasi-leftist is a bit too on-the-nose. The French confidence in Macron’s inevitability is not necessarily warranted.

A recent surge by the center-left candidate (for the French he’s center-left; in the States, he’d have long suffered a political death as a communist) Mélenchon, is looking like he might take away Macron’s slot in the final count tomorrow. This, too, might be a fairy tale told by a press that has been so fabulously wrong about pretty much everything in every recent western election of import.

Summary of Platforms

I summarize the major issues and approximate stances below. The next section has more detailed notes and citations on each candidate.

Marine Le Pen (FN – Le Front national)
  • Sovereignist (pro-France)
  • Leave the euro
  • Leave NATO
  • Renegotiate treaties with EU
  • Normalize relations with Russia
  • Economically liberal
  • Pro-regulation (banks/finance)
  • Quasi-anti-austerity
  • Quite racist
  • Right (for France); Center-right (for the U.S.)
Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise)
  • Sovereignist (pro-France)
  • Leave the euro
  • Leave NATO
  • Renegotiate treaties with EU
  • Normalize relations with Russia
  • Economically socialist
  • Pro-regulation (banks/finance)
  • Anti-austerity
  • Not racist
  • Center-left (for France); Left to Extreme-Left (for the U.S.)
François Asselineau (Union Populaire Républicain (UPR))
  • Sovereignist (pro-France)
  • Leave the euro
  • Leave NATO
  • Leave the EU
  • Normalize relations with Russia
  • Economically socialist
  • Pro-regulation (banks/finance)
  • Anti-austerity
  • Not racist
  • Left (for France); Extreme Left (for the U.S.)
Benoit Hamon (PS – Parti Socialiste)
  • Internationalist (pro-EU)
  • Keep the euro
  • Stay in NATO
  • Stay in the EU
  • Follow U.S./EU policy on Russia
  • Economically socialist
  • Pro-regulation (banks/finance)
  • Anti-austerity (pro-UBI)
  • Not racist
  • Center (for France); Left (for the U.S.)
Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!)
  • Internationalist (pro-EU)
  • Keep the euro
  • Stay in NATO
  • Stay in the EU
  • Follow U.S./EU policy on Russia
  • Economically liberal
  • Anti-regulation (banks/finance)
  • Pro-austerity
  • Not overtly racist (see policies above)
  • Center-right (for France); Center (for the U.S.)
François Fillon (French Republican)
  • Sovereignist (pro-France)
  • Keep the euro
  • Stay in NATO
  • Stay in the EU
  • Normalize relations with Russia
  • Economically liberal
  • Anti-regulation (banks/finance)
  • Not racist
  • Pro-austerity
  • Center-right (for France); Center (for the U.S.)

Detailed Notes on Candidates

Marine Le Pen (FN – Le Front national)

Long active in the right wing of French politics, she is the current front-runner, acknowledged by all sides as the only candidate guaranteed to make it to the second round. She is a French right-winger, so her platform is more sovereignist than American right-wing, e.g. she “insists that all French citizens deserve equal treatment regardless of their origins, race or religion.”

She doesn’t want to leave the EU, but wants to leave the euro (as Mélenchon, the center-left candidate) and wants to re-“negotiate with the EU to get better treaty terms for France.” She advocates “social policies to benefit workers and low income people” as well as “normalizing relations with Russia” and getting out of NATO. Trump said the same things; it’s unclear whether Le Pen means them more than he did.

While her policies sound like a Democrat to American ears, her rhetoric is a good deal more Republican, with more than a hint of racism. She’s definitely got a “France for France” vibe, coming out against headscarves, etc. Even given that, she doesn’t seem to be nearly as racist as Trump, to be clear. She gains by not having as horrific, atavistic politics as her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise)

The “Bernie Sanders” of the French race (if a fraught analogy helps). He is a “fiery orator” who’s been around for a while. “Mélenchon calls for outright disobedience by violating EU treaties that are harmful to France. That is his Plan A. His Plan B is to leave the EU, in case Plan A fails to convince Germany (the current boss) and the others to agree to change the treaties.” He definitely wants to leave the euro.

This is better than nothing, but it’s clear that—like Sanders—Mélenchon is using Plan B as a cudgel to get plan A, but it’s highly doubtful that he means to have France leave the EU (unlike François Asselineau, who has pledged to sign article 50 immediately upon election). It’s unclear whether France could defy the EU rules in order to stay more “French” (Plan A) without immediately being forced to either give up on any plans of its own or to move to Plan B.

Mélenchon’s rhetoric is very good but— as with Hamon, the other leftist candidate—he is torn on the horns of the dilemma of having traditionally socialist policies within the confines of the EU’s technocratic, neoliberal and highly capitalist system. Changing that “would […] require a unanimity among the EU’s 28 member States that is simply impossible.”

François Asselineau (Union Populaire Républicain (UPR))

One must always be suspicious of one-issue candidates. In this case, though, that one issue is: leave the EU. This one issue is arguably the single most important decision for France in order to save its traditional national identity, which is far more social than is possible under EU rule/restrictions.

In essence, this one issue for Asselineau is also a sovereignist one and defines his positions on economic, social and military policies. In other words, if you’re going to run on one issue, this is the one to run on. He pledges to “invoke Article 50 to leave the EU and immediately apply to Washington to withdraw from NATO” upon election. Asselineau is pure in his principles, akin to Ralph Nader in American politics.

Benoit Hamon (PS – Parti Socialiste)

Floundering heavily under the frankly incompatible goals of “traditional social democracy, and the European Union (EU).” His foreign policy is in line with Europe: mostly “made-in-Washingon […] demanding that “Assad must go” and ranting against Putin and Russia.”

It is unclear why the socialists are so pro-NATO other than to cynically try to siphon votes from Macron. With this election, the PS is—like the Democrats in the U.S.—clearly dead in the water, with its hypocrisy driving members to other parties and candidates in droves.

Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!)

Former economic advisor to Hollande and architect of the most recent rounds of the “unpopular, neo-liberal, anti-labor laws”. Darling of the French mainstream media and preferred candidate of other EU members, he has pledged to stay with the EU and not to rock the boat. Essentially, no change for France under him: the French military will remain subordinate to the U.S. via NATO command, and French economic and social policy will continue to be hamstrung and neoconned.

He claims to be neither left nor right. He has no electoral experience (having been assigned to his post in the Hollande government), so his popularity among traditionally elite opinion is suspect. Politically, he’s like Obama: not much experience but buoyed as a marketable candidate who will do what he’s told.

François Fillon (French Republican)

Socially conservative, economically liberal and also a strong proponent of the EU. In favor of more austerity to reduce the debt. Against foreign investment—he wants to “save the country’s economy from being completely taken over by foreign corporations, American retirement funds and Qatar.” This goal is just as unreachable as Hamon’s, as “there is nothing under EU rules to encourage French investors to invest in France”.

As in the United States, calls to “invest at home” have no effect where it matters—on the giant multinationals that employ most of the citizens. Fillon is pro-EU, but not 100% pro-NATO, as Macron is. He wants to end sanctions against Russia, for which he is naturally pilloried in the French and European press.

However, he is too overt in his policies, so the establishment prefers Macron, who sells essentially the same policies —sans being soft on Russia, which is a plus for the mainstream—who is willing to dress up his brutal economics in more flowery language (read: lie about it, in the best tradition of Bill Clinton when he finally killed the Democratic Party or Tony Blair when he did the same to Labour, allowing the neoliberal “New” Labour to rise from its ashes).

Left and Right Switch Places

“Fifty years ago, it was “the left” whose most ardent cause was passionate support for Third World national liberation struggles. The left’s heroes were Ahmed Ben Bella, Sukarno, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, and above all Ho Chi Minh. What were these leaders fighting for? They were fighting to liberate their countries from Western imperialism. They were fighting for independence, for the right to determine their own way of life, preserve their own customs, decide their own future. They were fighting for national sovereignty, and the left supported that struggle.”

Voting in your own country’s interests is not nationalist—it’s “sovereignist”. It’s rational. Casting people who vote in their own interests rather than in the interests of unknown others as racists is intellectually dishonest. People intuitively understand that their country is no longer run by them and, in the face of a democratic deficit, they choose from the candidates available—sometimes poorly, if the choice is poor.

As Johnstone writes, the word “populist” in France is being used as a curse, much as it was used in the same manner against Sanders and Trump.

“Since both [Mélenchon and Le Pen] deviate from the establishment line, both are denounced as “populists” – a term that is coming to mean anyone who pays more attention to what ordinary people want that to what the Establishment dictates. (Emphasis added.)”

Neoliberalism vs. Leftism

As in the States, the parties traditionally considered left-wing have capitulated to economic policies that are utterly incompatible with social goals.

“The confusion is due to the fact that most of what calls itself “the left” in the West has been totally won over to the current form of imperialism – aka “globalization”. It is an imperialism of a new type, centered on the use of military force and “soft” power to enable transnational finance to penetrate every corner of the earth and thus to reshape all societies in the endless quest for profitable return on capital investment. The left has been won over to this new imperialism because it advances under the banner of “human rights” and “antiracism” – abstractions which a whole generation has been indoctrinated to consider the central, if not the only, political issues of our times.”

The EU is incompatible with Socialism

“Meanwhile, it has become more and more obvious that EU monetarist policy based on the common currency, the euro, creates neither growth nor jobs as promised but destroys both. Unable to control its own currency, obliged to borrow from private banks, and to pay them interest, France is more and more in debt, its industry is disappearing and its farmers are committing suicide, on the average of one every other day. The left has ended up in an impossible position: unswervingly loyal to the EU while calling for policies that are impossible under EU rules governing competition, free movement, deregulation, budgetary restraints, and countless other regulations produced by an opaque bureaucracy and ratified by a virtually powerless European Parliament, all under the influence of an army of lobbyists.”

Talk of a UBI

Some of the candidates are paying lip service to the Universal Basic Income. Hamon has used it make his policies look more left and less liberally economic. As Johnstone eloquently explains, though, this idea is espoused across the political spectrum. In the United States, the billionaires of Silicon Valley—nearly all libertarians—are espousing it as a way of keeping people that their evisceration of the economy has “disrupted” alive so that they can drive for Uber.

“The idea of giving every citizen an equal handout can sound appealing to young people having trouble finding a job. But this idea, which originated with Milton Friedman and other apostles of unleashed financial capitalism, is actually a trap. The project assumes that unemployment is permanent, in contrast to projects to create jobs or share work. It would be financed by replacing a whole range of existing social allocations, in the name of “getting rid of bureaucracy” and “freedom of consumption”. The project would complete the disempowerment of the working class as a political force, destroying the shared social capital represented by public services, and splitting the dependent classes between paid workers and idle consumers.”

Russian Interference

Seeing the success that the Democrats have had in distracting the populace from unworkable and incompatible economic and social policies, the French too are screaming and pointing at the Russian bogeyman.

With this tool in hand, the establishment media tries to “prove” Macron’s bona fides vis à vis candidates in favor of normalization of relations with Russia.

“As an example of this shocking interference, which allegedly threatens to undermine the French Republic and Western values, the Russian news agency Sputnik interviewed a Republican member of the French parliament, Nicolas Dhuicq, who dared say that Macron might be “an agent of the American financial system”. That is pretty obvious.”
“The denunciation of Russian media and alleged Russian “interference in our elections” is a major invention of the Clinton campaign, which has gone on to infect public discourse in Western Europe. This accusation is a very obvious example of double standards, or projection, since U.S. spying on everybody, including it allies, and interference in foreign elections are notorious.”
“The campaign denouncing “fake news” originating in Moscow is in full swing in both France and Germany as elections approach. It is this accusation that is the functional interference in the campaign, not Russian media. The accusation that Marine Le Pen is “the candidate of Moscow” is not only meant to work against her, but is also preparation for the efforts to instigate some variety of “color revolution” should she happen to win the May 7 election. CIA interference in foreign elections is far from limited to contentious news reports.”
“In the absence of any genuine Russian threat to Europe, claims that Russian media are “interfering in our democracy” serve to brand Russia as an aggressive enemy and thereby justify the huge NATO military buildup in Northeastern Europe, which is reviving German militarism and directing national wealth into the arms industry.”

An explanation of “soft power”

“The amazing adoption in France of the American anti-Russian campaign is indicative of a titanic struggle for control of the narrative – the version of international reality consumed by the masses of people who have no means to undertake their own investigations. Control of the narrative is the critical core of what Washington describes as its “soft power”. The hard power can wage wars and overthrow governments. The soft power explains to bystanders why that was the right thing to do. The United States can get away with literally everything so long as it can tell the story to its own advantage, without the risk of being credibly contradicted. Concerning sensitive points in the world, whether Iraq, or Libya, or Ukraine, control of the narrative is basically exercised by the partnership between intelligence agencies and the media. Intelligence services write the story, and the mass corporate media tell it.”
“That is one reason for the extraordinary campaign going on to denounce Russian and other alternative media as sources of “false news”, in order to discredit rival sources. The very existence of the Russian international television news channel RT aroused immediate hostility: how dare the Russians intrude on our version of reality! How dare they have their own point of view! Hillary Clinton warned against RT when she was Secretary of State and her successor John Kerry denounced it as a “propaganda bullhorn”. What we say is truth, what they say can only be propaganda.

Comments

#1 − How our neighbours in rural France feel about this election

karin

Over the easter weekend we visited a bunch of our neighbours in rural France and the obvious topic for discussion was ‘les elections’. A very important fact to know about M. Fillon is that he has been in a big scandal because as a senator he employed his wife and 2 other relatives on ridiculously high salaries as consultants. His wife never did anything worth mentioning and her salary went right back in his pocket. The other two were still students and nowhere close to reaching a degree soon. So his credibility is shot − one does not do that. No stealing our tax money.
The other interesting thing is, our French friends do not talk openly on who they personally decided on − this is considered a private matter. So even they themselves do not know what the people in the village will vote. In the surveys they have still a large number of ‘undecided’ but they might very well just have chosen to not tell. Especially if they have decided to give their vote to M. Fillon, they keep quiet about it as to not expose themselves.
On the day of the election you can only put in your vote if you go to the town hall in person. You may be substituted by a very complicated process beforehand (both persons appearing at the local police station, signing papers and paying Euros for the service). But no voting by mail (except for the overseas departments), online, early voting or any other means. As the date is also smack in the middle of the spring school holidays, this is a bit annoying.

PS. there are actually 11 candidates to choose from in the 1st round, Those mentioned here are the ones with the best chances though.