The roots of anger in rural France – POLITICO

Jérémie Gallon is a Managing Director at McLarty Associates, Associate Professor at Sciences Po and Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. His latest book is Henry Kissinger, l’Européen.

I grew up in Cosne d’Allier, a village in Auvergne, a rural region in the heart of France. I remember growing up, people were proud that support for the far right in our city was weak when the then National Front was struggling to break the 5 percent hurdle. Those days are over.

In the first round of the French presidential election on April 10, the extreme right won 33 percent of the vote here. That is, including those who voted for the extreme left, 60 percent of the voters in my village chose an extremist, populist candidate.

This pattern was repeated in village after village across France. But why is French society fueled by the explosive mix of anger and fear that populists thrive on?

From an international perspective, it may seem difficult to explain the resentment – ​​even hatred – that many French people feel towards President Emmanuel Macron. For those who have lived through the chaos of Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States, or suffer daily from the demagogy and scandals that spice British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s erratic rule, the French president can seem like a paragon of leadership.

Despite the crises he faced during his first term in office, this dynamic, pro-European president – dedicated to fighting climate change – has strengthened France’s leadership on the global stage. He implemented structural reforms that strengthened the economy, and entrepreneurial dynamism has never been stronger. Even with the war in Ukraine, inflation persists lower in France than in its neighbors and its growth prospects remain comparatively better.

Hiding behind standard declarations of ignorance and bigotry is both inaccurate and lazy. As a child of Cosne d’Allier, I know that its residents are neither racist nor nostalgic for a France that has turned against itself. On the contrary, many are driven by values ​​and ethics that would be a source of inspiration.

What we need to do instead is understand the lived experience of French voters outside of the small Parisian elite. Auvergne, for example, is a region that has suffered greatly in recent decades – factories have closed one after the other and farmers work hard for modest and dwindling incomes.

As with those who voted for Trump in 2016 and again in 2020, many feel that social mobility is disrupted and that no matter what they do, neither their lives nor the lives of their children are likely to improve. And that’s not just a feeling. Data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that it now takes six generations – or 180 years – for the descendant of a French family in the bottom 10 percent of the income scale to reach the national average. In Denmark or Finland it “only” takes two generations.

Declining purchasing power is also a daily fear for many. On the fifth of every month, when the electricity and gas bills and rent are paid, many bank accounts are already empty. In my village, farmers who have worked all their lives find themselves with pensions of a few hundred euros a month. And those who get up at 5 a.m. every day to work at the nearby slaughterhouse sometimes have less in their accounts after fuel and childcare than those who stayed at home all day.

Many rural dwellers – as well as people from poor suburbs – feel that the state has not done enough to help. On the contrary, they feel let down by the government. Despite the activism of local politicians and residents, public services are dying out. Post offices, police stations and tax offices usually go first; then the schools close and with them the last shops and the village café.

And through it all, power remains in the hands of the same groups, the same officials, who have ruled France for decades. There is a feeling that change – almost any change – must surely be better.

If re-elected on April 24, Macron will have to reform France even more than in the past five years. Only in this way can a social explosion on an even greater scale than that of the Yellow Jackets be avoided. This is the only way to build a more flexible and just French society. And it’s the only way to bring real hope back to the streets of my village and thousands of others. The roots of anger in rural France - POLITICO

Fry Electronics Team

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