In his darker moments, Charles de Gaulle – creator of the powerful presidential office – admitted that his countrymen were “ungovernable”.
Then, in a delightful quote only a Frenchman could pull off, he said, “How can anyone rule a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?”
Tomorrow at tea-time we can expect to hear it Emmanuel Macron has given five more years than France‘s President. But there is also much thought as to why more than four in ten voters chose the extreme right Marine LePen.
Talk of a deeply divided French nation will be widespread. But that’s nothing new. When I first got to know the jewel of France in the mid-1970s, the talk of the nation as “coupee en deux” (divided in two) was also widespread.
De Gaulle designed the current French institutions under his Fifth Republic in 1958 to replace the political chaos the country suffered after World War II. His goal was also to curb the role of political parties.
Nevertheless, the parties existed, with two major political figures – Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac – forming loosely united socialist and Gaullist conservative blocs. Those blocs were shattered in 2017 by the stormy arrival of Emmanuel Macron, a candidate who insists on being neither left nor right.
This party bloc destruction was absolutely confirmed by the result of the first ballot 13 days ago. Both the Socialist and Gaullist candidates scored less than the 5 percent required to recover their electoral expenses.
But there are signs that French party blocs are realigning themselves in three configurations this time, with Macron leading the centre-right, the elegant Jean-Luc Melenchon leading the far-left and Marine Le Pen leading the far-right. It prompted Oxford academic Sudhir Hazareesingh, author of The Majestic How the French thinkto revive the saying about two political groups, “Left Gaullists and Right Gaullists”.
One is also reminded of socialist titan Francois Mitterrand, who completely refuted one of his lieutenant’s claims that his victory showed the French as fundamentally left – going back to the 1789 revolution. For Mitterrand, the French were fundamentally right – occasionally reserving the right to vote for a left-wing candidate.
Despite all of this, it is fundamentally true that there will be profound shock and trepidation when Europe wakes up to French President Le Pen on Monday. Marine Le Pen took over the party founded by her father Jean-Marie and gave it a new style and shape.
In her third run for president, she softened her style and presented herself as “the forgotten mother of the nation,” with some success. It has abandoned its ambition to leave the euro and the European Union, but all its core policies, including a collision course with the EU, stand.
Marine Le Pen, now the second most popular politician in France, mainly addresses citizens’ concerns about migration. Her speeches often associate migrants with economic harm, crime and anti-social behavior, and her party’s literature reinforces these messages, but a core election campaign is her party’s “national priority” and allowing only French people access to jobs, housing and welfare would opened an immediate rift with Brussels.
Given that the French have a long-standing “hate-hate” relationship with the president — whoever that person is — Emmanuel Macron deserves some political credit for his two terms in office. His two predecessors in this office – Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande – each received short trial after only one deployment.
Under Macron’s watch, France has regained some international standing and economic fundamentals for growth and unemployment have improved. But there is real resonance for his critics’ successful efforts to label him the “president of the rich.” Research has shown that the educated and wealthy are drawn to his urbane and Europhile politics, but the poorer sections of society find him aloof and complacent.
The political battles surrounding Mr. Macron and his “Republic on the Move” will not end tomorrow. The parliamentary elections on June 12 and 19 will be a big battle for his new party, which has rather patchy organization across the country and lacks local roots.
The French President needs a parliamentary majority, and Macron may not have one, leading to a rather contradictory symbiotic structure known as “cohabitation”.
Already the surprise package of the first round of the presidential election, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who received 22 percent and lost 400,000 votes to overtake Le Pen for a second-round spot, is billing himself as a potential prime minister. That would seriously limit Macron’s room for maneuver and would also have major implications for the European Union and Ireland.
The push-pull of French politics will continue, and systemic stresses sometimes seem to confirm de Gaulle’s dire diagnosis of “ungovernability”.
However, a fascinating time of upheaval in French life is upon us once again.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/macron-will-probably-win-but-his-political-battles-are-only-just-starting-so-hed-better-listen-41578979.html Macron is likely to win, but his political struggles are just beginning, so he had better listen