France- The results of last weekend’s EU Parliamentary elections revealed France’s political divisions. Voter turnout in France was the highest for an EU election in nearly a quarter-century. European political analysts point to this fact as proof that citizens are beginning to truly grasp the importance of the EU Parliament in their daily lives. This theory is nonsensical though, given the shifting political landscape in France. The motivation had to do more with many French citizens being determined to lash out at their government and project their disaffection with the present French government, the EU, and centrist political parties in general.
The Take Power party, a nationalist political party aligned closely with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) came out on top with 23.3% of the vote. The mainstream political parties in France, as in much of Europe, did not fare well. The feeling across France is that the mainstream left and right parties are not representing the average citizen very well. The average citizens in France came together and rejected the policies, and politics of not only the EU, but those of their president as well.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party gained 22.4% of the vote, however. The narrow margin limits the damage to Macron, at least in the short run.
Germany- The EU election results in Germany are placing added pressure on Angela Merkel’s grand coalition. The nation’s two major parties suffered substantial losses last weekend, weakening a coalition that’s already fragile enough, and also bringing the possibility of Merkel not finishing her term as chancellor one step closer to becoming a reality. The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) are not at all pleased with the weekend’s results, and where it leaves them. Sunday marked the continuation of a trend of steady decline, internal unrest, and worsening election results. The party took only 15.6% of the vote, down 11 points from 2014, and placing it in third place. Merkel’s own Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian Christian Social Union allies garnered a total of 28.7% of the vote. Yet this was a drop of 7% from 2014 for them.
The internal unrest in SPD has ignited a power struggle. If the left wing of the party comes out on top, SPD could leave the coalition, bringing about new elections and all but serving as the final nail in Angela Merkel’s political coffin. Politicians in Berlin have been downplaying talk of the coalition possibly crumbling, however, the possibility will need to be addressed, and planned for if SPD does walk out.
The French people have spoken. Emanuel Macron will be the Republic of France’s next president. Marine Le Pen’s bid to win the presidency fell well short of the expectations of her and her party. Whereas Le Pen rode a wave of Brexit and Donald Trump inspired populism, Macron’s own political position was made up of a pseudo-socialist cloak that differs little in substance from the current president’s own positions.
What does this mean for France? Macron is portrayed as a centrist and political outsider by the European media. In reality, nothing is farther from the truth. He has held government positions in the past and is an avowed globalist. His policies as president will reflect his pro-European Union slant. He will attempt to bring France closer to the EU and its sphere. At a time when other European nation-states are rethinking their relationships with the EU, expect France to go all in, for lack of a better term. France’s future economic and trade policies will fall in line with what favors the financial policies dictated in Brussels, and, to a lesser extent, Berlin. Macron will also do everything possible to throw a wrench into Brexit negotiations. He’s very much opposed to Britain’s departure from the EU and his position there will have a very negative effect on UK-French relations in the future.
In the security and refugee realm, France will attempt to reach a compromise of sorts between continuing to accept large numbers of refugees and strengthening the borders of France. Francois Hollande made a similar attempt and it ended in near disaster for the Republic. France became no more secure and ISIS-inspired attackers were emboldened by the lack of effective defenses put up by the French government. The string of attacks across France in recent years contributed greatly to Hollande’s plummeting popularity. Marcon needs to accept and understand that his own political fortunes are inextricably tied to his ability to combat terrorism in France.
The aftereffects of the French election will take some time to materialize. It is fair to assume that France and Germany will spearhead an effort to rally the European Union. Despite the recent victories by pro-EU candidates across the continent, the future of the European Union continues to remain unclear. Europe’s populist movement is by no means dead, however, it has suffered a powerful setback. For the moment, Donald Tusk, Angela Merkel, and Jean Claude Juncker can breath a bit easier.
Tomorrow, France will choose between two candidates and their respective paths. The path of Emanuel Macron is pro-European Union and built on the support of many politicians who are responsible for the mess that France finds itself in right now. The other path is offered by Marine Le Pen, a right-wing candidate with a message which has resonated among many working-class French citizens. Le Pen’s path is forged in populism and is decidedly anti-European Union. Truthfully, Le Pen’s candidacy bears a striking resemblance to Donald Trump in 2016.
It will be a decisive, and momentous day for France no matter who wins. The ramifications that will follow the decision will be felt far and wide from Washington to Brussels and Berlin. The results will also push many questions about France’s future to the forefront. Should Le Pen win will a Frexit referendum be long in coming? Or, if Macron is victorious how much closer will he move France into the EU’s bosom?
Macron is leading in the polls yet the former investment banker has had a difficult last week of campaigning. First it was a volatile debate with Le Pen where the infamous ‘France will be led by a woman’ remark was made. Then today the Macron campaign suffered a major hacking attack. It is unclear how damaging the attack will be, but comparisons between the Macron hack and what happened to Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year are already being made.
With the polls set to open in less than 24 hours, one has to wonder about Macron’s lead in the polls. Is it a genuine lead, the result of intentional under-representation in the polling, or because many Le Pen supporters are hesitant to reveal who they are really voting for? 2016 is not that far behind us and the debacles that polling data suffered during Brexit and the US election are on many minds today.
The wild card is the computer hack. France’s election campaign commission has warned that anyone spreading the leaked information before the election could face criminal charges. Whether this deters people or not remains to be seen. It is unclear how large of a role, if any, the incident will have come tomorrow.
For what it is worth, I would like to see Le Pen win tomorrow. However, even if she is not the winner, France has not seen the last of her.
Mainstream Europe is thinking the worst is over after the first round of the French presidential elections on Sunday. Independent-centrist Emmanuel Macron performed well enough to create a broad expectation that he will defeat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen when the runoff is held in two weeks. Populism in Europe appears to have reached its high-water mark after recent electoral defeats for far-right populists in the Netherlands, and Austria, as well as the continuing decline of far-right political fortunes in Germany. Supporters of the European Union appear ready to write off the populist surge that has brought about Britain’s exit from the EU, and Donald Trump’s rise to the White House.
The folks in Brussels, as well as their supporters around Europe, may have the cart before the horse.
The collapse of the traditional parties in this election serves as a blunt confirmation that France is in the midst of a political renewal. Macron and Le Pen’s emergence show that a wide majority of French citizens are dissatisfied with the political system and eager for a change.
While Macron is positioned as a reformer, a flurry of questions and concern surrounds him. As a former investment banker, there is skepticism that he can address the angst and concerns of ordinary working class citizens. His political past is attached to the French political establishment, with time spent member of Hollande’s government and as a minister in the Second Valls Government. He is pro-EU and points to his party as ‘the only pro-Europe political force in France.’ In short, Macron provides a ripe target for Le Pen.
Le Pen is not expected to defeat Macron in the runoff. However, as we have seen over the past year, pre-election expectations and polls do not tell the entire story. France is unhappy with the establishment parties and she can use that disgust to her benefit in a way that her opponent can only dream of.
The wildcard here is terrorism. Another terror attack between now and the runoff will rapidly transform the election into a one-issue race and will only propel more voters to at least consider casting ballots for Le Pen. Macron’s pro-EU position and vast experience in economics will not serve him well should more French citizens die at the hands of people inspired, or supported by ISIS.
In that regard, the populist feeling and prospects of a Trump Moment coming to France remain alive and well. Populist views have been growing in Europe for years now. In times of economic and security turbulence, like now, there is a yearning for a national identity, along with the feeling that a supranational body like the EU only strips away that identity. The runoff in two weeks will determine whether French voters identify first and foremost as French citizens or as citizens of the European Union and act as the foundation for whichever direction France decides take in the future.
This afternoon President Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May held a joint press conference as May’s visit to the United States comes to an end. Both leaders have hailed their talks as productive. The topics of discussion ranged from a potential post-Brexit trade deal to the situation in Syria, and Russia. Trump has agreed to a state visit to the United Kingdom later this year and it is safe to assume that we will be seeing Prime Minister May on this side of the pond quite often in the coming years. Suffice to say, the Special Relationship is intact and functioning.
The talks between May and Trump today were significant, however, Saturday could prove to be an even more pivotal day for the Trump administration’s foreign policy efforts. Trump and Vladimir Putin will speak by telephone tomorrow and the conversation could very well set the tone of US-Russian relations for the foreseeable future. Then again, maybe it will not. Despite the media speculation about the relationship between the two leaders, Trump has often remarked that he does not know anything about Vladimir Putin and the course that their relationship will take remains to be seen. Having said that, Trump has hinted at lifting some of the sanctions which the US has imposed on Russia. House and Senate Republicans have warned against the White House adopting a softer line with Russia. There have even been suggestions that legislation to enforce the sanctions might be pursued should Trump decide to lift them.
The President will also speak with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande tomorrow. These conversations will go a long way towards giving America’s other major allies a feel for the new president. Today, Hollande referred to the Trump administration as a challenge for Europe, identifying trade and diplomacy as areas of concern. Both European leaders are major proponents of the European Union and continental unity in the face of a myriad of external and internal threats facing Europe. Their views are contradictory to Trump’s own in many ways. Tension already exists between Merkel and Trump, in large part because of his taking her to task over her immigration policy and the consequences it has had for Germany and Europe. The close relationship that Merkel shared with Barack Obama will likely not be repeated with his successor.
Hollande has been outspoken in his dislike for Trump. During the 2016 US presidential election, the French leader made remarks to the effect that he found Trump’s behavior disgusting. The populist right wing tidal wave Trump rode to victory in 2016 is another cause for Hollande to be concerned. 2017 is a presidential election year for France and the Socialist president is likely to face a massive challenge from France’s own version of Donald Trump in Marine Le Pen, should Hollande chose to run.
In any event, after tomorrow Putin, Merkel, and Hollande should have relatively clear ideas about how their relations with President Trump and the United States will pan out, and Trump will have the same of them.