Though the names are different, the French election is playing out much like the last one when a candidate who might have brought change was brought down by scandal, opening the way for the same-ol’ policies, writes Gilbert Doctorow.
By Gilbert Doctorow
The vast majority of commentary in U.S. and West European media about the first round of voting in the French presidential election on April 23 concurred that the vote represented an unprecedented repudiation of the political establishment. After all, neither of the two top vote-getters, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, belonged to the major center-right or center-left parties, the Republicans and the Socialists respectively. The ugly character assassination pervading the campaign was also noted.
And yet, in many ways, the French first-round outcome was precisely “precedented” within French experience if we look back just five years to the election that brought Francois Hollande to power and, still more, within the U.S. experience if we look back over the several “bait and switch” presidential elections of the past quarter century.
In 2012, the French presidential candidate best prepared by experience and knowledge to lead France out of its economic and social woes was Dominique Strauss-Kahn, at the time Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. He was widely expected to receive the nomination of the Socialist Party, but was brought down by a sex scandal that many believed at the time was an entrapment arranged by his enemies, including those in the United States where Strauss-Kahn’s sexual profligacy led to his indictment for sexual assault although the charges were later dropped.
Because of Strauss-Kahn’s legal troubles, the majority of French who had their fill of President Nicolas Sarkozy were left with the Socialists’ poor second choice, Francois Hollande, who proved over the last five years that he was witless and utterly lacking in substance. During his tenure, France has limped along and played a supporting role to the Continent’s hegemon, Germany.
In 2016, the presidential candidate best prepared by experience and knowledge to lead France was Francois Fillon. He offered both domestic and foreign policies that would mark a significant departure from the wishy-washy and ineffectual programs of Hollande and of Sarkozy before him. Perhaps most unorthodox of these policies within the Center-Right, from which he came, was his advocacy of good, constructive relations with Russia.
But Fillon was brought down by a concerted campaign of character assassination. Yes, he was likely guilty of abusing the hiring privileges of his office to assign state compensation to his wife and sons. But that has been a very widespread abuse in the French political establishment and represents institutionalized corruption that did not begin with and will not end with Fillon.
Democratic politics is not for Boy Scouts. It has always and will always have rough edges – and candidates will not be perfect men and women. The question, which should count above all others, is whether the candidate has the programs that will change people’s lives for the better and the force of will and political skills to realize them.
The Macron Muddle
Meanwhile, the administrative resources of the French government and the media have been used to promote the candidacy of a total nonentity, Emanuel Macron, whose main virtue is that he is NOT the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, the great nightmare candidate for the French establishment and beyond its borders for the European Union establishment, as well as for supporters of globalism around the world.
Macron’s second featured attribute is his youth. At 39, he will be the Fifth Republic’s youngest ever President. In this sense his candidacy parallels electoral politics in the United States, where being a black or being a woman has been used to draw votes to candidates who otherwise do not stand up to scrutiny.
Macron’s taking the lead position in the first round has been greeted with jubilation by world stock markets. The Nasdaq finally broke through the 6,000 level. European bank shares soared in reaction to the prospect of France being run by a former investment banker.
However, if he wins the second round, Macron will come to office without an organization to govern, with only the slightest chance of achieving a parliamentary majority in the upcoming National Assembly elections in June. He will be obliged to cobble together a ruling coalition, meaning there will be little coherence in his government and its policies. Coalitions are formed to share the spoils of office, not to get things done.
We may expect France to muddle along and to continue to be subservient to Berlin, the capital of European powerhouse Germany, and Brussels, the home of the European Union’s bureaucracy. This will be a setback for those who had hoped France would break the stultifying consensus over austerity, over migrants, over sanctions on Russia – issues that are destroying the European Union from within. But the biggest loser may well be the French nation.
Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015