Monday, April 24, 2017

Some thoughts About The French Elections

The French election results are in, and they some good news for those of us concerned with the rise of far right nationalism.  Center/left reformer Emmanuel Macron came in first with 23.9% of the vote, and far right Marine LePen came in second with 21.4% of the vote.  they will participate in a runoff on May 7.  All polling shows Macron with a 26% lead over Le Pen, which if it holds, is good news indeed.

A few observations about this election.  First, what is notable here is that the two major parties in Franch that have dominated French elections since Charles de Gaulle--the conservative Republicans and the left Socialists--did not even make the runoffs.  Instead, the candidate of a fringe far right wing party (Le Pen) and an independent movement arising from the reformist center/left (Macron) prevailed.  Indeed the candidate of the incumbent Socialist party only got 8% of the vote.  To be far, the Republican candidate might very well been in the top two had he not had a serious of mini-scandals.  The French voters sent a clear message--they want serious change.

Second, the polling in France was remarkable accurate, which suggests that polling showing a huge Macron lead will also hold.  Nate Silver has an excellent post explaining why we should not expect a Brexit/Trump surprise in France.

Third, the stakes in the first round are striking.  With the exception of Macron, all three leading candidates were very close to Putin.  Two of the candidates were hostile to the U.S. and NATO, as well as the EU.  If Macron had not made it to the runoff, the future of Europe would have been very bleak indeed.

Fourth, while immigration and the EU were center to the election rhetoric.  The real reason for the rejection of the establishment was the very low growth in the French economy and the bleak employment prospects for young French citizens.  Both the far left candidate and the far right candidate blamed the EU, and both adopted pretty similar prescriptions--more State involvement in the economy, an end to the Euro and either the elimination or the weakening of the EU.  Yet, France's economic troubles long predate both the immigration surge and the current Euro troubles.  Most economists have long blamed the very inflexible labor system and its extraordinarily high payroll taxes as the reason for slow growth in employment.  Macron was unique is promising to focus on solving the diagnosis offered by most economists, and rejecting the excuses of the left and right.  A good analysis of the economic issues in this race can be found here.

Finally, Macron appears to be taking on the rising nationalism in Europe head-on by distinguishing patriotism from nationalism, and arguing that a true French patriot needs to be true to the nation's values.

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