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Paul Taylor, A Co-editor at POLITICO, writes the column “Europe At Large”.
PARIS — Whoever wins France’s April 24 presidential election, the country is likely to face trouble on the streets before the end of the year.
The widespread feeling that the election was hijacked by external events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, coupled with an overall low turnout and proportionately large vote count for the country’s political extremes, has produced a toxic cocktail of voters created dissatisfaction. One that is sure to spark protests.
In this highly political nation, many feel deprived of a proper campaign as President Emmanuel Macron declares his candidacy just a day before the deadline, continuing his presidential duties until last week. Macron held only a single rally and a few staged tours of the province, while refusing to discuss other candidates and declining most of the pre-election TV interviews. This refusal to campaign kept him out of the reach of his rivals, but it also left the public hungry for a real confrontation of ideas — a partial explanation for the highest abstention rate in 20 years.
If the centrist president wins re-election — still the most likely outcome after leading the first round on Sunday with 27.8 percent of the vote — an upheaval is sure to follow, as his opponents have already begun to question his legitimacy place. Senate President Gérard Larcher, an amiable country conservative, warned ahead of the vote: “If there is no campaign, the question arises as to the legitimacy of the winner.” Such comments fuel claims from both the far left and far right that Macron is in the in case of victory, will not have a mandate to reform the welfare state.
Fears of soaring food and fuel prices have raised the specter of another wave of grassroots gynecology roadblocks, and unions have vowed to fight against his flagship manifesto that would raise the official retirement age from 62 to 65.
In a country with a long tradition of barricades, another popular revolt against a president who is often perceived as arrogant and technocratic is very likely. Strikes for higher wages and against pension reform could begin within weeks of the August summer holidays.
When Marine Le Pen – Macron’s five-year opponent, who scored 23.2 percent in the first round on Sunday – captures the Elysée Palace in her third attempt, the far-right nationalist faces left-wing demonstrations against her anti-immigration. national preference” platform from day one, with violence from the radical fringes very likely.
Despite Le Pen’s efforts to portray herself as a stateswoman and to tone down her past Eurosceptic and anti-Islamic rhetoric, as well as her long-standing admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, she remains a target of left-wing and mainstream media hostility.
Both finalists could also struggle to secure a solid parliamentary majority in June’s general election. Macron’s La République en Marche party, founded mostly by political novices after his 2017 victory, has failed to take root and will have to join forces with more prominent allies. On the other hand, Le Pen’s National Assembly is likely to face an informal “Republican front” of mainstream politicians determined to prevent a far-right incursion into the National Assembly.
“Whoever is elected president will not have a sociological majority,” said Alain Duhamel, the doyen of French political commentators. “The greatest political force in France today is ‘degagime‘ (Get Outism).”
The unexpectedly strong performance of anti-capitalist arsonist Jean-Luc Mélenchon – who garnered 22 percent in polls – underscores the potential for militant opposition to either winner. The veteran left just missed making it to the second round pushed his France Unbowed supporters not to cast a single vote for the far right – but he has not endorsed Macron as the lesser evil.
Mélenchon’s emergence from the rubble of the burnt-out mainstream Socialist Party symbolizes the triumph of social anger over the pragmatic, pro-European “ruling left” that for decades enjoyed the glamor of office while ruling rising social inequality.
Mélenchon’s performance does not make him a kingmaker as he will not negotiate with any of his rivals and polls suggest his constituents will be fragmented over Macron, Le Pen and abstention. But leading a post-election protest movement could make him a kingbreaker.
Furthermore, should Macron succeed in defeating Le Pen in a repeat of her 2017 campaign – which most voters had hoped to avoid – there is every indication that his lead to victory will be much smaller. Returning to the Elysée with a narrow defeat of an opponent he has branded an extremist would undoubtedly weaken his authority.
All of this points to a “third round” that would play out in the streets at the start of the centrist president’s next term.
Five years ago, after the triumph of insurgent Macron over the entire political establishment, I warned in this column: “France is rarely liberal for long”.
Macron has calmed down in office. Circumstances have made his politics far more statist and protective than he imagined when he took the helm. Popular resistance, as well as events such as the pandemic and the return of war in Europe, have changed his perspective.
But they haven’t changed the fickle, rebellious nature of French politics. Maybe we’ll see proof of that soon.
https://www.politico.eu/article/after-france-presidential-election-deluge/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication After the French presidential election, the deluge – POLITICO