France at a Crossroads

What Europe are we expected to wake up to? What political culture are we going to live under? Would there still be a place for descendants of immigrants in the continent where the Crusades were launched and two world wars were started, when its bigots begin rejecting even fellow white Christian Europeans?

I reckon we need realistic–not falsely reassuring– answers.

Today French voters are voting in more than just another presidential election. They are making a choice between two distinct cultural identities; either they chose sliding towards a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ imbued with hatred, animosities and selfishness the consequences of which would go further than Europe, or opt for an ‘institutional government’ and the logic of dialogue and mutual understanding inside and outside France.

Thus, no choice has ever been starker or more clear-cut, and no bet has ever been higher.

Personally, I do understand why many French, indeed, many Europeans and Westerners – including Americans, Canadians and Australians – are unhappy about the current state of affairs.

I realize there is a demographic time-bomb. The ‘West’, as symbolized by white Christian Europeans and their descendants, no longer dominates global affairs, nor does its population size work in its favor. Even economically, the ‘west’ does not have a monopoly on decision-making. It does not fully dominate the international markets anymore.

All this means that ‘globalization’ poses a threat to a ‘West’ whose populations are worried about being diluted in their own countries, and fear what might the future hold.

With this fear, as proven by statistics, even polite diplomatic pronouncements and sincere calls for co-existence may prove futile; more so, when anti-democratic tendencies begin to take root in what were ‘cradles of Western democracy’. Then, add to the above the collapse of the ‘classic’ national and ideological identities against a background of rising ‘religious’ revival brought back to life by the criminal actions of zealots raising religious banners and using religion as a justification for murder and terrorism.

Blue-collar French men and women workers, with limited educational and hi tech qualifications, moved a few decades ago from voting for the Left, led by the French Communist Party – that used to be the second largest in western Europe after its Italian counterpart – to the extreme Right groups, such as the National Front.

The reason for this radical shift is simple. The unskilled worker was competing in the job market with a poorer immigrant worker willing to earn an even lower wage. Hence, all what this French worker had heard from the venerable ‘comrades’ about ‘class struggle’, ‘capitalist greed’ and ‘fat cats and bosses exploitation of their workers’ disintegrated when his/her bosses confronted him/her with the argument that they were not their enemy. There real enemy was the ‘foreign immigrant’ worker who was willing to work more for less.

This ‘logic’ became acceptable in France, specifically, in the industrial and mining ‘departments’ of the north near the Belgian borders and in the areas of high concentration of North African immigrants in the cities of the Mediterranean south.

It even went beyond the traditional French Left voter. In Britain too, traditional bastions for the Labour Party in the industrial cities of northern England and former mining valleys of Wales voted in favor of “Brexit”, i.e. leaving the EU. The position of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a radical Leftist, was particularly dubious. The day after the night that was, the British woke up to a strange reality: The extreme Right and extreme Left voting for the same cause!

As far as the Labour Left is concerned, this largely happened as a rejection of European integration that would allow cheaper East European labor force from competing in the local job market. However, for the extreme Right, which hid itself well under the cloak of the Conservative Party, the “Brexit” referendum was its ideal platform to show its true colors under the banner of UKIP (The United Kingdom Independent Party).

It is worth mentioning here that the sudden surge of support for this isolationist Anti-Europe party caused the then moderate Conservative Prime minister David Cameron to panic and call for the unnecessary referendum in the first place. Subsequently though, after the referendum, the true size of UKIP was laid bare for all to see, as it suffered a wipe out in the recent local elections; proving it was always a protest single-issue platform, which has now lost its raison d’etre, and hence, all isolationist Rightists and xenophobes returned home to the Conservative Party.

Also in the US, the major destination for immigration in the West, the “Mother of Free Enterprise”, and the enemy of protectionism and ideological beacon for competitiveness, we saw a Rightist billionaire defending workers’ rights by calling to stop “exporting American jobs”, build a wall on the border with Mexico, and tighten immigration procedures in order to ‘protect’ America against cheap foreign labor and terrorists!

As was the case with “Brexit”, minus the immigration issue, Donald Trump’s calls were in a sense similar to those of Democratic Leftist presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Both were actually pushing their supporters to vote against ‘The Establishment’, its ethos and symbols such as pragmatic moderation, intersection of interests, broadly based cross-party deals.

In all three major western countries, America, Britain and France, which rebuilt the post WW2 ‘world order’, we notice that “The Establishment’ has suffered painful defeats, and that ‘globalization’ has lost a strategic battle, against a background of retreating moderation and rising isolationism and extremism.

The capitalist system, however, cannot comfortably sustain such a status quo, i.e. powers dominated by nationalist isolationists. War is usually the natural outcome, but in this day and age wars are pretty costly and devastating.

Anti-Western powers, led by Russia under its current leadership, know this fact; and this is why the Kremlin has been virtually fuelling civil wars within the three countries and perhaps others. Circles close to Russian leadership did not hide Moscow’s preference of a Marine Le Pen presidency in France. It also openly supported “Brexit”, and Trump’s electoral position against NATO.

Thus, the choice before the French in the decisive election day is either choose war, or a world based on mutual understanding, tolerance, and willingness to deal together with the challenges confronting humanity as a whole.

It is truly a crossroads.

Crisis or Stasis?

Macron

After the cascading weirdness of recent Western history, the results from France’s presidential election were strangely … normal. All the hours that Trump-traumatized commentators spent imagining how Marine Le Pen could get from the low 40s to striking distance turned out to be wasted: Her tumble to just 34 percent, and the cruise-control victory for Emmanuel Macron, was about the outcome you would have expected if there had been no Brexit, no Trumpening, no Syrian refugee crisis and Continental terror wave, no sudden sense of capital-H History awakening from its sleep.

Of course if you prefer anxiety — and some Americans dealing with the James Comey madness may have that preference — you can spin the outcome differently. Le Pen almost doubled her father’s vote share from 2002, Macron was running his own kind of (pretend) outsider’s campaign, the two main French political parties look wrecked, and the neophyte president faces the same array of daunting challenges that had certain dotty pundits considering the case for Le Pen.

But I would still submit that the basic normalcy of the French landslide, the populist challenge’s hard rebuff, is a useful indicator for observers trying to answer the great question of the moment: Is ours really an age of deepening Western crisis — as it has certainly seemed, of late — or beneath all the populist sound and fury, does our society actually remain in a kind of stasis, stagnant but not close to revolution or collapse?

Since the Berlin Wall came down and Francis Fukuyama announced the End of History, “stasis” has had by far the better of the argument. From 1989 onward Western political arguments were conducted within extremely narrow lines, with radicals and reactionaries thoroughly excluded. Liberal democracy lacked plausible ideological challengers, in the West and elsewhere: Neither radical Islam nor Putinism had anything like the appeal of Marxism and fascism in their heyday. The contradictions of capitalism inspired plenty of criticism but little in the way of active resistance. And every time a seemingly world-historical crisis came along — Sept. 11, the Great Recession — it turned out to just circulate the same groups of elites in and out of power.

I don’t need to rehearse all the ways in which the last few years in Western politics have broken with this pattern, how our populist moment has elevated unexpected and extreme-seeming forces from Warsaw to Westminster to Trump’s Washington.

But more important than the political developments, potentially, has been the widening of ideological possibility, the sense on both the younger right and left that ideas from way outside the neoliberal center are up for consideration once again.

So things definitely feel different than just five or 10 years back. The intersectional left is purging campuses, reactionary thought is getting the cover treatment in New York Magazine, the language of the 1930s (“America First!”) is on the lips of politicians, the kids are into socialism and integralism and even once in a while ISIS there’s a whiff of tear-gas in the streets of Berkeley and talk of schism in Catholicism and a strange sort of nationalist international in play in geopolitics.

But how different? This is the hard question, because in Western politics, what sometimes seems like a sea change may still turn out to just be a spasm — more significant than Buchananism or Occupy Wall Street or the last Le Pen breakthrough but ultimately contained and managed and defused.

A glance at the stock market shows that’s how the West’s moneymen are betting, and not without some reason. In Britain Theresa May’s embrace of Brexit has left the far right without a cause and the Corbynite left poised for a devastating defeat. In the United States Donald Trump’s nationalism seems to be collapsing back into zombie Reaganism at home and the usual post-Cold War management of rogue states abroad — the former shadowed by the possibility of impeachment, the latter seasoned by incompetence in various terrifying ways, but neither representing the kind of highly ideological, post-post-Cold War revolution that Trumpism once seemed to promise.

In France, Le Pen’s disappointing performance came after years of attempting to inch toward the liberal center; for all the talk about the republic in the balance, she was running as a secular Gaullist, not a fascist. On Europe’s peripheries, Poland’s far-right Law and Justice has not yet set up a Catholic monarchy, nor Greece’s far-left Syriza a people’s republic. The new illiberalism everywhere has its limits, and may not always be genuinely illiberal at all.

Meanwhile, as someone who reads widely in (and has sympathies with) neoliberalism’s critics, I’m not sure any of the theoretical attempts at a post-liberal politics have yet escaped what you might call the Steve Bannon trap, in which name-dropping figures from the more ideologically exciting past substitutes for actually devising a new blueprint of one’s own.

The alt-right “counterculture” profiled in New York Magazine, for instance, includes a few genuinely radical figures — the much-cited Mencius Moldbug really does want monarchy, of a sort — but often its subjects are just a little more populist or a little more race conscious or a little more intemperate than the normal run of post-Goldwater American conservatives.

Likewise the campus left has added transgenderism to its list of causes and some new words to its vocabulary of enforcement, but otherwise its recent inquisitions feel more like a replay of the 1990s P.C. wars than a 1960s-level convulsion, with the internet amplifying the attention they garner but not necessarily their real scope.

The role of the online realm in this moment is generally ambiguous. It is clearly a place where the extreme and heterodox can find one another, where reaction and radicalism can flourish unpoliced. But there’s a sense in which the internet’s virtual forms of political engagement, its slacktivism and Twitter mobs and meme wars, might also limit online radicalism’s real-world reach, encouraging 1930s playacting and recondite debates that never leave the realm of pixels and nostalgia.

This matters because real historical turning points require both structural crises and usable philosophies, an intersection of events and ideologies — industrialization plus “Das Kapital” plus World War I, for instance — strong enough to dissolve all the habits and fears and status-quo biases that keep a given order going.

I argued last week that Europe seems closer to such a moment than America — the tensions within its version of the liberal order are more profound, the weak points of its system more obvious, its social-cultural decadence somewhat more advanced, the external pressure more severe. Le Pen’s larger-than-expected defeat doesn’t change this reality, nor weaken the case that European elites should learn from their populists lest a future deluge carry them away.

But in neither Europe nor America do post-liberal ideas look anywhere near fully ripe, and in both Europe and America there is a “first as tragedy, then as farce, then as online flamewar” quality to the way they’ve entered into political debates.

Nor do the pressures on the system from social fragmentation and economic stagnation yet look strong enough to overcome the stabilizing effects of the developed world’s great wealth, the risk aversion bred by age and habit, the fearful memories of what the last age of illiberalism wrought.

That’s the case, in brief, for betting on continued stasis, and for interpreting our moment’s perturbations — Trump, Comey and all — as pointing toward a real crisis for the West that still lurks a generation or more ahead.

The New York Times

Hollande ‘Will Vote Macron’, Calls Le Pen ‘Risk’ for France

With final French election results showing presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen on 24.01%, 21.30% respectively, France’s outgoing president, Francois Hollande, urged people to back centrist Emmanuel Macron in a vote to choose his successor next month.

Hollande appealed to the French to reject far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose place in the runoff represented a “risk” for France. He also endorsed Macron’s candidacy.

Macron and Le Pen, leader of the National Front, go head-to-head on May 7 after taking the top two places in Sunday’s first round.

Hollande, a Socialist nearing the end of five years of unpopular rule, threw his weight behind his former economy minister in a televised address, saying Le Pen’s policies were divisive and stigmatized sections of the population.

“The presence of the far-right in the second round is a risk for the country,” he said. “What is at stake is France’s make-up, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world.”

Global markets reacted with relief to Sunday’s vote, which broke the dominance of established parties of the center-left and center-right but still left the most market-friendly and internationally-minded of the remaining contenders in pole position to become France’s next leader.

Surveys pointing to a clear Macron victory soothed investors who have been unnerved by Le Pen’s pledges to ditch the euro, print money and possibly quit the EU. Many had feared another anti-establishment shock to follow Britain’s “Brexit” vote and Donald Trump’s election as US president.

On the other hand, French conservative Francois Fillon, who failed to make it into the second round of an election for president on Sunday, said he would step back from any front-line role ahead of parliamentary elections in June.

Fillon, a 63-year-old former prime minister, had been favorite to win the presidency until late January, when he was hit by allegations that he was paying his wife and children from public funds for work they had not properly carried out.

The allegations, which he denied, dented his credibility as he was proposing to implement economic shock therapy of slashing public sector jobs and workers’ rights, and his ratings tumbled.

Trump Says Paris Attack Will Shake French Election

Armed French police patrol the Champs Elysees Avenue the day after a policeman was killed and two others were wounded in a shooting incident in Paris

US President Donald Trump waded into France’s presidential election on Friday, saying that he expected the deadly attack in Paris would have an impact on France’s upcoming presidential vote.

“Another terrorist attack in Paris. The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!” he said, breaking a silence over Sunday’s vote in a tweet.

Trump tweeted hours after a gunman shot dead a French policeman and wounded two others on the world-famous Champs Elysees Boulevard. ISIS claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting.

The attack rocked France’s presidential race Friday with just days to go before one of the closest races in recent memory.

Bloodshed had long been feared ahead of Sunday’s first round of voting after a string of jihadist atrocities targeting the county. France is in a state of emergency and at its highest possible level of alert since a string of terror attacks that began in 2015, which have killed more than 230 people.

Three of the four presidential frontrunners — far-right leader Marine Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron and conservative Francois Fillon — called off campaign events planned for Friday in the wake of the attack.

The attack prompted Marine Le Pen to say on Friday that France should reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services.

Le Pen, who has campaigned on an anti-European Union, anti-immigration platform, was the only major French candidate who backed Republican Trump in the Nov. 8 US presidential election.

Trump ran for the White House on a pledge to get tough on immigration and his administration has imposed restrictions including a controversial ban, stalled in US courts, on travelers from Muslim majority nations.

On Thursday, former US President Barack Obama spoke with a different French candidate, Macron, a pro-EU centrist.

Macron is leading most opinion polls for the election’s first round on Sunday and is expected to contest a second-round run-off with Le Pen. Obama’s spokesman said the former US president, who is popular in France, was not making a formal endorsement.

Meanwhile, Macron has called on the French people not to succumb to fear, division and intimidation.

One day after the shootings of police officers in Paris and just two days before the first round of the presidential election, Macron said in a video posted online: “the terrorist’s will is to destabilize the country”.

“In such circumstances, the role of the president of the Republic as the army chief and guardian of our institutions is to protect the French. I am ready,” he said.

Macron recalled a series of security measures listed in his campaign platform: boost police and military forces and intelligence services and pursue France’s military operations against the ISIS group in Iraq and Syria.

Also, Fillon has pledged to keep the country under a state of emergency following the shooting of police officers Thursday in Paris.

In a statement at his campaign headquarters, Fillon said “the fight for the French people’s freedom and security will be mine. This must be the priority” of the next president.

Fillon promised to boost police and military forces.

He also said that, if elected, he would launch a “diplomatic initiative” aiming to create an international collaboration against extremists that would include all major actors, including the United States, the European Union, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf countries.

Fillon hopes his experience as prime minister from 2007 to 2012 and hardline views on security issues will give his campaign a boost, just two days before the first round of the vote.

France in the End of Days

France

Paris — France seems ready to vent the slow-ripening anger in an election that could see the extreme right return to power for the first time since the 1940s and Europe revert to a turbulence not seen since that epoch.

If Marine Le Pen of the National Front wins, she says she will take France out of the euro, the shared European currency, and restore the franc. This would constitute an economic and political rupture so violent that even Britain’s vote to leave the union would pale beside it.

A Le Pen victory is far from assured, plausible if not probable. Returning to France late last month, I was struck by how much Le Pen’s party has joined the mainstream. The pattern that has prevailed throughout the Fifth Republic seems dead. The French are tired of increasingly indistinguishable Socialist and Republican presidents.

The first round of voting on April 23 is almost certain to send Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, upstart leader of a new catchall centrist movement, into the runoff on May 7: the xenophobic nationalist versus the pro-Europe neophyte.

Polls show them both with clear, if tightening, leads over the scandal-plagued Republican candidate, François Fillon, and an extreme leftist, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the Unbowed France movement, whose support has surged in recent days. The left, still singing the Internationale and plotting class struggle, is in disarray. The inclination to blow up the system has found fertile ground.

Such end-of-days gloom is puzzling. Near 10 percent unemployment and near invisible growth cannot explain it. French infrastructure is a rebuke to American decay. French universal health care works. Savoir-vivre, the art of living, is not a French phrase for nothing. From the United States to China, the French hold on the world’s imagination endures. It is a land of unique pleasures.

Yet this seems to offer scant comfort. Instead the French are focused on their country’s failures: its dispatch under Vichy of Jews to their deaths, its painful colonial past in Algeria, its faltering attempts to integrate one of Europe’s largest Muslim communities, its vulnerability to terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice, its expensive and sometimes rigid welfare state, its ambiguous relationship to global capitalism, its fraying model of “laïcité” (or secularism) designed to subsume religious difference in the values of the French republic — all are endlessly agonized over.

“There is a certain French masochism,” Pascal Bruckner, an author, told me.

This sense of dispossession, of loss, is what the National Front has exploited: loss of identity, jobs, national borders; loss of faith in a corrupt political system. “On est chez nous!” — roughly “We are at home!” — is the party’s strange battle cry, chanted at every rally. But why such pathological need to reaffirm belonging, and who exactly are “we”?

“There is no right or left. This election is about patriotism versus globalization,” Nicolas Bay, the secretary-general of the National Front, told me. “That is why we would end immigration. If it’s Le Pen against the globalist Macron in the second round, it will be clear what the contest is about: Do we defend the nation, or is the nation finished?”

Macron is a former banker and economy minister under Hollande. Small, with glittering blue eyes, his pitch is that he’s a tech-friendly pragmatist with the ability to revitalize France. Nobody quite knows what’s in his gut. To fans he’s a doer; to critics he’s a hedger of bets. But nobody can deny his remarkable surge.

The New York Times

France Demands Lifting Le Pen’s Immunity over Financial Scandal

French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen over an expenses scandal,legal sources said Friday.If lifted Le Pen will need to answer and cooperate with a thorough financial probe.

The move comes just nine days before France heads to the polls for a highly unpredictable vote with Le Pen, who heads the anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front (FN), one of the frontrunners in the April 23 first round.

The request was made at the end of last month after Le Pen, who is a member of the European Parliament (MEP), invoked her parliamentary immunity in refusing to attend questioning by investigating magistrates.

The prosecutors also made a similar request regarding another MEP from Le Pen’s party, Marie-Christine Boutonnet, who also avoided questioning.

Le Pen, who has presented the investigation as a plot to derail her presidential bid, shrugged off the move, saying it was “normal”.

“It’s totally normal procedure, I’m not surprised,” she told France Info radio.

When addressing her plans for economic policy, the Far-right National Front presidential candidate says France’s GDP growth would accelerate to 2.5 percent toward the end of her first term if she wins the upcoming election.

Le Pen wants to drop the euro currency, a move that would throw the future of the European single currency into doubt, and vows to re-negotiate France’s relationship with the European Union, promising a referendum on EU membership if those talks fail.

As for the polls, they still show Le Pen and centrist independent Emmanuel Macron leading the field on around 22-24 percent each, Fillon and radical Communist-backed candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon are closing in on them, on around 18-20 percent each.

A veteran leftist and eurosceptic famous for his mass rallies and fiery speeches, Melenchon has surged from behind on a platform of massive spending increases and a threat to pull out of key EU treaties.

The two leaders of the first round will go through to a decisive run-off on May 7.

Surveys show Le Pen would be beaten by any of the other three main contenders at the final hurdle but analysts have warned of a possible upset, after Britain’s shock vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump’s election in the US, both of which pollsters failed to predict.

Hollande: Le Pen’s Euro Exit Plans Jeopardize French Purchasing Power

Ditching the euro to return to the franc would harm the purchasing power of the French, President Francois Hollande and central bank governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau said on Saturday, in tacit warnings against the National Front.

According to Reuters, opinion polls show the anti-EU, anti-immigrant National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen qualifying for the April 23 first round of the presidential election but losing the May 7 run-off to centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Leaving the euro is one of Le Pen’s trademark policies, both a marker of her anti-establishment stance that attracts voters angry with globalization, and an obstacle to her quest for power in a country where a majority oppose a return to the franc. “Some (candidates) want to leave Europe. Let them prove to the French people we’d be better on our own!” Hollande told reporters in Rome on the margins of an event to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European Union’s founding treaty.

“They can’t prove it because … a return to a national currency would trigger devaluations and a loss in purchasing power, closing borders would trigger job losses,” he said, according to a transcript of his comments provided by his office.

Surveys consistently show that French voters, in particular the elderly, overwhelmingly want France to stay in the euro, despite their skepticism over the European Union. Some 72 percent of French voters oppose a return to the franc, an Ifop poll published in Le Figaro daily showed.

But there is a sharp gap between voters as a whole and those who plan to vote for Le Pen in the first round of the presidential election. Some 67 percent of Le Pen voters back ditching the euro, the Ifop survey showed.

Speaking on the same theme as Hollande, European Central Bank policymaker Francois Villeroy de Galhau warned against a euro exit in an interview published on Saturday.

“Exiting the euro and devaluing our currency by 20 percent would mean that the cost of imported goods would increase by the same amount,” he told the Ouest France newspaper.

Euro membership has allowed France to benefit from lower borrowing costs, leading to savings of 30-60 billion euros per year, Villeroy said, adding that ditching the currency would mean giving up those savings.

Neither Villeroy nor Hollande mentioned Le Pen by name, but she is the only top candidate clearly calling for a euro exit.

Left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, who stands fourth in opinion polls, far behind Macron and Le Pen, calls for a complete overhaul of the EU and euro zone rules but foresees a euro exit only if renegotiation talks fail.

Le Pen has said she would seek to renegotiate France’s EU membership with the aim of returning to the franc and cutting back the bloc to a loose cooperative of nations. She would put the outcome of the talks to a referendum.

Opinion polls see her qualifying for the two-way election run-off but losing it to the centrist, pro-EU Emmanuel Macron. But there are many undecided voters, making the outcome of the election unpredictable.

Far Right Leader Le Pen Meets Russia’s Putin, Criticizes Upholding Sanctions

Russian President Vladimir Putin granted an audience to French far-right party leader Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin on Friday, bestowing a level of international recognition that has so far eluded her in the countdown to France’s presidential election.

Opinion polls show Le Pen, who has said she admires Putin, getting through to the second, decisive round of France’s presidential election on May 7 but then losing to centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen backs the lifting of the European Union’s economic sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in the Ukraine conflict – a stance she reiterated on Friday.

“We attach great importance to our relations with France, but at the same time we try to maintain equal relations both with the current authorities and with representatives of the opposition,” Putin told Le Pen at their meeting.

“We do not want to influence events in any way, but we reserve the right to talk to representatives of all the country’s political forces, just as our partners in Europe and the United States do.”

Putin added that Le Pen represented a range of political forces that was gaining momentum.

The meeting with Putin represented a coup for Le Pen. She had traveled to New York earlier this year and was seen at Trump Tower, the New York home of U.S. President Donald Trump, but did not meet Trump himself.

Her Kremlin audience is likely to go down well with her core supporters in France, many of whom admire the Russian leader’s conservative stance on social and moral issues.

Back home in France, the meeting was the top item on the website of French conservative daily Le Figaro. Another French newspaper, Le Monde, said Putin had “anointed” Le Pen.

However, some French voters may be put off by Le Pen’s association with a leader widely seen in the West as autocratic.

In an interview published this week in French daily Liberation, her opponent, Macron, said Le Pen had a “toxic” fascination with Russia.

“We must certainly talk with Russia to ensure stability in the Middle East. But let’s not forget who they are, what they do, and the nature of their regime,” Macron said.

French Far-Right Leader Le Pen: Brexit Will Trigger a ‘Domino Effect’

At a right-wing meeting aiming to oust established parties in elections this year, France’s Far-right leader Marine Le Pen urged European voters to follow the example of Americans and the British and “wake up” in 2017.

Speaking to several hundred supporters in the German city of Koblenz, Le Pen said that Britons’ vote last year to leave the European Union would set in train a “domino effect”.

A day after U.S. President Donald Trump took office, Le Pen said his inauguration speech included “accents in common” with the message on reclaiming national sovereignty proclaimed by the far-right leaders meeting in Koblenz.

“2016 was the year the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. I am sure 2017 will be the year the people of continental Europe wake up,” she said to loud applause on Saturday.

Populist parties are on the rise across Europe. Unemployment and austerity, the arrival of record numbers of refugees and militant attacks in France, Belgium and Germany have left voters disillusioned with conventional parties.

Le Pen, head of the anti-European Union, anti-immigrant National Front (FN) and seen by pollsters as highly likely to make a two-person runoff vote for the French presidency in May, has marked out Europe as a major plank in her programme.

“The key factor that is going to set in course all the dominos of Europe is Brexit,” Le Pen said. “A sovereign people chose … to decide its destiny itself.”

Of Trump, she added: “His position on Europe is clear: he does not support a system of oppression of peoples.”
In a joint interview with the Times of London and the German newspaper Bild published on Monday, Trump said the EU had become “a vehicle for Germany” and predicted that more EU member states would vote to leave the bloc, as Britain did last June.

Le Pen said if elected she would ask the EU to return sovereign powers to France and hold a referendum on the outcome of negotiations she expected to follow. If the EU rejected her demands, she said: “I will suggest to the French people: exit!”

Poll’s Show France’s Fillon Will Easily Beat Far-Right’s Le Pen

French conservative Francois Fillon will beat the far-right’s Marine Le Pen by a wide margin in next spring’s election for president, a poll by Kantar Sofres Onepoint showed on Tuesday.

Fillon, a former prime minister with radical free-market policies, won the ticket of the Republicans party in a primary contest on Sunday and is widely expected to find himself pitted against National Front leader Le Pen in the second round of the election next May.

On another note, France called for an immediate United Nations Security Council meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Aleppo and said it would press for a U.N. resolution to punish the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Speaking ahead of a meeting in the Belarusian capital Minsk on the Ukrainian crisis, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Syrian regime forces and their allies would not resolve the Syrian conflict by carrying out one of the “biggest massacres on a civilian population since World War Two.”

“This (Security Council) meeting would have to find a way to deal with the humanitarian situation and see how we can get aid in. We have to find a way,” Ayrault told Reuters.

Previous such meetings have failed to end hostilities.

France, a backer of the anti-Assad opposition, is pushing for a Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Syria for the use of chemical weapons. Ayrault said France and Britain had taken over drafting the resolution from the United States.

An inquiry by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has already found that government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks and that Islamic State militants had used mustard gas.

“We are now the penholders. We are not giving up. There have to be sanctions,” Ayrault said before meeting his Russian, German and Ukrainian counterparts.

Ayrault said a meeting in Paris around Dec. 10 of countries opposed to Assad, including the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, would discuss how to find a political solution to the crisis.