Why the French election is important
23 April 2017 9:00 am
The elections in France might well have echoes of Brexit. The polls badly misread global populist and had an impact on the British government, forcing David Cameron to resign and raising questions about the future of Europe. The first significant rollback in the continent’s economic integration is still playing out. And Britain is now going to the polls again on the back of Brexit.
But the outcome of the election in France will have an even bigger impact all over the world, particularly in the US and Europe.
France is an important player globally. It is an important decision maker in Europe. The nation elects 74 of 751 seats in the European parliament, or close to 10 per cent. Some parliamentary decisions require a simple majority and others require an absolute majority. France has 29 of the 352 votes on the EU Council of Ministers, and 260 votes are needed on the council for a majority.
Two anti-European Union candidates have a serious chance of making it into the final runoff round on May 7, raising fears this could be the beginning of the end for the eurozone. And the election of Marine Le Pen would send shock waves through Europe. It would threaten the existence of NATO and the EU.
Usually a French general election doesn’t present a make-it or break-it moment for the entire Eurozone. But it’s different this time.
And the EU is not only keeping an eye out on Le Pen. A surge in the polls by far-left, eurosceptic Jean-Luc Melenchon is another sign oi the sweeping antiestablishment sentiment grabbing Europe and the US at the moment.
Certainly, the latest analysis of Vote Compass data by Vox Pop Labs suggests that 49 per cent of French voters support holding a referendum on France’s EU membership. Is "Frexit" likely to sway voters' decisions at the ballot box?
The polls at the end of this week had quarter of voters saying they are still undecided. According to polls, any of four candidates, from the far left to the far right, could attract around 20 per cent of the vote in tomorrow’s first round. The top two will go into a run-off second round on May 7.
Only one of the four candidates is a member of a major political party - François Fillon from France’s main conservative party.
All but one — centre-left independent candidate and current frontrunner Emmanuel Macron — are to one degree or another anti-European Union and pro-Russia.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, is expected to get to the second round in May with a platform. The big question is who she’ll face in the second round.
Will it be centrist Emmanuel Macron, who pollsters and analysts see as the favorite to emerge as president in May? Will it be scandal-ridden, dark horse candidate François Fillon who’s enjoyed an 11th hour rebound in support? Or will it be Melenchon, who has promised to rework the treaties setting the framework for the EU and then hold a referendum on whether to remain in the bloc.
It is not clear that Le Pen will benefit from the apparent terrorist incident on the Champs-Élysées. While some say it will boost her campaign built around fear of Islamist terror and the vow to protect France she was accused of overreaching when, during a debate on the night of the attack, she attempted to exploit the attack.
As the BBC reports, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve accused Mr Fillon and Ms Le Pen of cynically exploiting the attack. No-one knows how the attack will play on the election but the killing of a policeman on the Champs Elysees is a shocking event that will certainly be on people's minds as they contemplate their choice on Sunday.
So what can we expect? Joshua Muravchik and Jeffrey Gedmin write in the Washington Post:
“The sky is not falling yet. But were today’s EU to break apart, expect a surge of protectionism, illiberal nationalism and anti-American sentiment in pockets across the continent. Count on even greater Russian assertiveness in Europe in backing anti-democratic forces. Moscow is the source of none of these unfortunate trends, but it has shown itself eager to support and promote all of them.”
All of this coincides with the election of Donald Trump in the US, with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, stamping out the last embers of post-Communist democratization and imposed one-man rule, invading two of the former republics of the Soviet Union — Georgia and Ukraine — and using economic leverage and dirty tricks to ensure the elimination of democracy in others and with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan grasping for dictatorial power.
This is what the end of democracy looks like.