France Has a Leader, But Not Yet an Opposition

Marine Le Pen speaks during an interview with Reuters in Paris. In an interview with Reuters ahead of Sunday's decisive second round, Le Pen reaffirmed she wanted to take France out of the euro and said she hoped the French people would have a national currency in their pockets within two years. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

When I arrived in France a week ago, many Americans were asking whether this election was going to be the French Brexit, and Marine Le Pen the French Trump. Given the strength of Emmanuel Macron’s lead in the polls, I thought this was the wrong question. France, in fact, already had a Brexit-sized political earthquake, when neither of the two mainstream parties of left and right made it into the second round.

The center-right Republican Party currently seems to be flailing around, trying to decide where it goes next. It is nonetheless in better shape than the left’s Socialist Party, whose devotees are currently standing around its sickbed, speaking in hushed tones. Jean-Luc Mélenchon pinched many Socialist voters, particularly lower-income and unemployed urban dwellers, with his “France Insoumise” (France unbowed) platform; Macron won over the prosperous by coming out full-bore for Europe, globalization, economic reform, and immigration. Even Le Pen got a few in the second round, mostly those who identify as “far left.” One hates to prematurely report a death, of course, but it’s certainly hard to see how the Socialists manage to recover from their humiliating single-digit performance in the first round of this election.

With both major parties in disarray, the question naturally arises: If Emmanuel Macron’s brand of ardent globalization becomes the focal ideology for one side of the political spectrum, what will constitute the natural opposition?

Electoral systems can be roughly divided into two sorts: those that tend to produce bipolar results, and those that tend to be run by coalitions of varying degrees of stability. Single-member districts with a first-past-the-post system (where the person with the highest votes takes the office), tend to produce two strong parties. Proportional representation systems tend to be more favorable to small parties, at the cost of somewhat weaker heads of government.

America, of course, is a bipolar system. And so, sort of, is France. They don’t have two centuries-old political parties. But control of the government has tended to alternate between the mainstream parties of right and left, though the identity of those parties has altered somewhat since Charles De Gaulle ushered in the Fifth Republic. The runoff system narrows down the field of candidates, forcing voters to choose between more popular options — and the parties have tended to help this process along through strategic withdrawals from the second round. Too, the structure of the system gives both voters and politicians incentives to hand the head of state majorities in the legislature.

Bipolar systems often divide along the great fault lines in their societies: capital and labor, urban and rural, taxpayers vs. net beneficiaries of government programs. In recent decades, those fault lines have mostly been over the size of government, both its spending and its regulation. But the past year has brought forward a divide that doesn’t quite map onto those well-trodden paths: between those who embrace globalization, and benefit from it, and those who want less immigration, less free trade, a return to the economic and social order of what was, for them, a happier past.

Macron is the distilled essence of one side of this debate: a Rothschild banker, the graduate of an elite school, an unapologetic extoller of social liberalism and an open economy. If his brand of technocratic globalism is one pillar of a new French political divide, then that implies that the other side of the political spectrum will shape itself in opposition to him: less friendly towards the European Union and free trade more generally; less interested in dismantling France’s somewhat overbearing labor market rules; less friendly to immigrants from distant places and cultures.

That sounds a lot like “Marine Le Pen,” and indeed, I have heard mainstream conservatives worrying about just that. But that’s not the only possibility; given how toxic her party’s name seems to be, it is not even necessarily the most likely one.

To take an American parallel, look at the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The winning electoral formula for Democrats turned out not to be “The opposite of everything Reagan says,” but Bill Clinton, a sort of “kinder, gentler Reagan,” one who criticized Sister Souljah for making inflammatory racial remarks, and spoke about making abortion “safe, legal, and rare”; who used tax cuts instead of subsidies to help selected constituencies; who pushed for a national health care system, but ended up signing a historic welfare reform (even if under electoral pressure to do so). It’s possible that French politics could evolve similarly.

And yet, it’s also possible that it won’t. Right now French politics doesn’t have two poles; according to political scientist Arun Kapil, it has five: the far left, the small and hardy band of loyal Socialists, En Marche!, the Republicans, and the National Front. And one possibility is that these poles winnow somewhat, but never come back to the old intra-right and intra-left alliances that stabilized French politics into something approaching a two-party system. Mélenchon is a true believer who so far seems unwilling to make strategic alliances, and the National Front is similarly uncooperative, even if other parties wanted to cooperate with them, which they don’t. If those blocs hold onto enough voters to tip an election, but never quite enough to win one, future French elections may get kind of wild.

It’s too early to tell yet which of these possible futures will hold. But we may start to get some guess in June’s legislative elections. How well En Marche! does will provide clues to just how big a shift Macron has actually achieved in French politics. How well the Republicans do will give us some sign of whether they can get their mojo back. And the performance of the far left and the far right will indicate whether France is on its way to establishing a “new normal” not that much different from the old — or striking out for uncharted territory, where there may well be some dragons lurking.


Macron Elected President as France Commits to Europe


Paris – The French people elected on Sunday centrist Emmanuel Macron, 39, as their new president, to become the youngest head of the republic. The former economy minister emphatically defeated his rival National Front leader Marine Le Pen by a large margin of 65.9 percent of the vote to 34.1.

Through their choice, the French people rejected populism and committed to the European Union, which Le Pen had vowed to leave should she have been elected. Despite her defeat however, it was a record performance for the National Front, a party whose anti-immigrant policies once made it a pariah, and underlined the scale of the divisions that Macron must now try to heal.

Even though he achieved a resounding victory, Macron’s election was marked by a high number of people who abstained from the vote, while numerous others voted blank.

Macron’s election was met with a sigh of relief across Europe.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the victory, tweeting: “France has and will always be at the heart of Europe.”

The sentiment was echoed by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, who said that the French chose a “European future.”

After winning the first round two weeks ago, Macron had been accused of behaving as if he was already president. On Sunday night, with victory finally sealed, he was much more solemn.

“I know the divisions in our nation, which have led some to vote for the extremes. I respect them,” Macron said in an address at his campaign headquarters, shown live on television.

“I know the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that very many of you have also expressed. It’s my responsibility to hear them,” he said. “I will work to recreate the link between Europe and its peoples, between Europe and citizens.”

Later he strode alone almost grimly through the courtyard of the Louvre Palace in central Paris to the strains of the EU anthem, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, not breaking into a smile until he mounted the stage of his victory rally to the cheers of his partying supporters.

His immediate challenge will be to secure a majority in next month’s parliamentary election for a political movement that is barely a year old, rebranded as La Republique En Marche (“Onward the Republic”), in order to implement his program.

Outgoing president Francois Hollande, who brought Macron into politics, said the result “confirms that a very large majority of our fellow citizens wanted to unite around the values of the Republic and show their attachment to the European Union”.

Juncker told Macron: “I am delighted that the ideas you defended of a strong and progressive Europe, which protects all its citizens, will be those that you will carry into your presidency.”

Macron spoke by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he hopes to revitalize the Franco-German axis at the heart of the EU, saying he planned to visit Berlin shortly.

US President Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations on Macron’s “big win”, saying he looked forward to working with him. Chinese President Xi Jinping said China was willing to help push Sino-French ties to a higher level, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also congratulated Macron.

The euro currency EUR=EBS, which had been rising for two weeks as the prospect receded that France would elect an anti-EU president, topped $1.10 in early Asian trading for the first time since the U.S. elections, before easing back. [FRX/]

“Fading political risk in France adds to the chance that euro zone economic growth can surprise to the upside this year,” said Holger Schmieding, an analyst at Berenberg Bank.

Macron will become France’s youngest leader since Napoleon. A 39-year-old former investment banker, he served for two years as economy minister under Hollande but has never previously held elected office.

Le Pen, 48, said she had also offered her congratulations. But she defiantly claimed the mantle of France’s main opposition in calling on “all patriots to join us” in constituting a “new political force”.

Her tally was almost double the score that her father Jean-Marie, the last far-right candidate to make the presidential runoff, achieved in 2002, when he was trounced by the conservative Jacques Chirac.

Her high-spending, anti-globalization “France-first” policies may have unnerved financial markets but they appealed to many poorer members of society against a background of high unemployment, social tensions and security concerns.

Despite having served briefly in Hollande’s deeply unpopular Socialist government, Macron managed to portray himself as the man to revive France’s fortunes by recasting a political landscape molded by the left-right divisions of the past century.

“I’ve liked his youth and his vision from the start,” said Katia Dieudonné, a 35-year-old immigrant from Haiti who brought her two children to Macron’s victory rally.

“He stands for the change I’ve wanted since I arrived in France in 1985 – openness, diversity, without stigmatizing anyone … I’ve voted for the left in the past and been disappointed.”

Macron’s team successfully skirted several attempts to derail his campaign – by hacking its communications and distributing purportedly leaked documents – that were reminiscent of the hacking of Democratic Party communications during Hillary Clinton’s US election campaign.

Allegations by Macron’s camp that a massive computer hack had compromised emails added last-minute drama on Friday night, just as official campaigning was ending.

While Macron sees France’s way forward in boosting the competitiveness of an open economy, Le Pen wanted to shield French workers by closing borders, quitting the EU’s common currency, the euro, radically loosening the bloc and scrapping trade deals.

Macron will become the eighth – and youngest – president of France’s Fifth Republic when he moves into the Elysee Palace after his inauguration next weekend.

Opinion surveys taken before the second round suggested that his fledgling movement, despite being barely a year old, had a fighting chance of securing the majority he needed.

He plans to blend a big reduction in public spending and a relaxation of labor laws with greater investment in training and a gradual reform of the unwieldy pension system.

A European integrationist and pro-NATO, he is orthodox in foreign and defense policy and shows no sign of wishing to change France’s traditional alliances or reshape its military and peacekeeping roles in the Middle East and Africa.

His election also represents a long-awaited generational change in French politics that have been dominated by the same faces for years.

He will be the youngest leader in the current Group of Seven (G7) major nations and has elicited comparisons with youthful leaders past and present, from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British ex-premier Tony Blair and even the late US president John F. Kennedy.

But any idea of a brave new political dawn will be tempered by an abstention rate on Sunday of around 25 percent, the highest this century, and by a record share of blank or spoiled ballots – submitted by more than 11 percent of those who did vote.

Many of those will have been supporters of the far-left maverick Jean-Luc Melenchon, whose high-spending, anti-EU, anti-globalization platform had many similarities with Le Pen’s.

Melenchon took 19 percent in coming fourth in the first round of the election, and pointedly refused to endorse Macron for the runoff.

France’s biggest labor union, the CFDT, welcomed Macron’s victory but said the National Front’s score was still worryingly high.

“Now, all the anxieties expressed at the ballot by a part of the electorate must be heard,” it said in a statement. “The feeling of being disenfranchised, of injustice, and even abandonment is present among a large number of our citizens.”

The more radical leftist CGT union called for a demonstration on Monday against “liberal” economic policies.

Like Macron, Le Pen will now have to work to try to convert her presidential result into parliamentary seats, in a two-round system that has in the past encouraged voters to cast ballots tactically to keep her out.

She has worked for years to soften the xenophobic associations that clung to the National Front under her father, going so far as to expel him from the party he founded.

On Sunday night, her deputy Florian Philippot distanced the movement even further from him by saying the new, reconstituted party would not be called “National Front”.

France Votes for a New President


Paris – Amidst tight security measures, French electors will be back to ballot boxes today in the second and decisive round of presidential elections, which will determine the president for the next five years.

Emmanuel Macron – highly possible to win – would be the youngest president since the foundation of the French republic 170 years ago.

Until Friday, the elections’ result was almost predictable after a survey showed that Macron not only did advance Marine Le Pen but has also achieved additional progress after the intense televised debate between the two rivals on Wednesday.

The accusations that went viral claiming that Macron is practicing taxes evasion and has secret banking accounts offshore quickly disappeared after his firm denial and the absence of any evidence.

However, the great surprise came three hours before the “electoral silence” that bans candidates, their supporters and media means from publishing or announcing any news that might influence the 47 million electors – Chan4 published an enormous amount of pictures, contracts and emails of officials from Macron electoral campaign and were promoted as Macron Leaks.

“We knew that this kind of risk would be present during the presidential campaign, because it has happened elsewhere. Nothing will be left without a response,” French President Francois Hollande said.

The political party of Macron En Marche! (On the Move), said that some of the documents are valid and were obtained several weeks ago after both personal and professional mailboxes of party leaders were hacked. Other documents in circulation are bogus, the party added.

The election commission, which supervises the electoral process, warned social and traditional media not to publish the hacked emails. “The commission stresses that publication or republication of these data…could be a criminal offense,” it said.

‘Arab Voice’ in France to Vote for Macron


Paris – French law prohibits carrying out surveys and opinion polls based on race or religion, so it is therefore difficult to reach conclusive results on who Arabs or Muslims will vote for in Sunday’s presidential elections. There are some five or six million citizens of Arab or Muslim origin, which means they hold sway over the elections. However this power has been weakened because of the low number of those registered on electoral lists despite awareness campaigns that were waged to encourage them to vote.

For decades, the “Arab voice” usually voted in favor of the Communist and socialist left in France. After the defeat of former President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, his supporters attributed part of the loss to the “Arab voice” voting heavily in favor of his rival Francois Hollande. In 2002, socialist candidate former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin lost by a narrow margin in the first round of the presidential vote to then National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen after the “Arab voice” snubbed him for making pro-Israel statements. As for the current elections, the “Arab voice” had pinned their hopes on far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, but he, and Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon, did not make it to runoff. The elections are now down to economic and social liberal Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen, who is known for her anti- immigrant, Arab and Muslim stances.

The Arab and Muslim voters themselves are now at a loss.

Asharq Al-Awsat sought to obtain the views of a number of “Arab voice” voters from different generations, religions and ages in order to demonstrate the disparity in their choices and the reasons pushing them to vote for Macron or Le Pen:

Jean Masiha, a French national or Egyptian origin, is currently overseeing Le Pen’s economic program. He said that “Arabs in France believe more and more in the National Front’s ideas and her programs.” This has been demonstrated in the rise in the number of recruits from 2 to 6 percent in recent years.

In his assessment of the course of the “Arab voice”, Masiha said: “Our platform is built on the idea of returning the voice of the sense of citizenship and to those who we consider to be citizens regardless of their race or religion.”

Arabs are attracted to Le Pen because her program prioritizes France, its language, national anthem, culture and borders. This program stands in contrast to Macron’s, who denies the idea of citizenship and the existence of the French culture, said Masiha.

He believes that Macron discriminates between French Arabs, seeing them as Algerian or Lebanese or Moroccan.

“We on the other hand see their voices as French ones,” he added.

Masiha’s views reflect a small minority of the “Arab voice”. Given the choice between Le Pen and Macron, the vast majority leans towards the latter even though many are voting for him simply to thwart the far-right candidate’s advance.

Sophie Taheri, a French-Moroccan economic expert and activist in Macron’s “En March!” movement said that she is supporting him for his program, style and personality.

She stressed that she defends his progressive thoughts because she “believes in freedom, a society that is open to the world and committed to Europe and the development of the individual through the quality of work.”

Macron’s thoughts overcome the traditional lines of traditional right and left political currents that have held political life in France hostage for 30 years, she explained.

She also noted that Macron is keen on developing the economy in a way that confronts the challenges of the digital age, adding that she defends him because he is “generous, dynamic and has a sense of initiative.”

Naufal Ibrahimi al-Maili, a French Algerian researcher and university professor in Paris said that he will vote for Macron “without an overwhelming sense of happiness because my Algerian roots prevent me from voting for the daughter” of a leader who played a part in the Algerian-French conflict.

He also condemned Le Pen’s views on Islam, saying that they “pose a real threat to social peace in France.”

Hanine Barazi, a French-Syrian professor at the Sorbonne University, echoed Maili’s stances despite having reservations on Macron’s program. She did note however that he is a fresh face in French politics and is backed by the youth. She also praised his courage in recognizing that colonial France had committed errors, some of which could be tantamount to war crime.

Faraj Maatouk, a French-Tunisian historian and university professor, said that he supports Macron “without hesitation, even though I do not agree with his liberal program.”

He stressed that it is necessary to “stand against the rhetoric of hate” and efforts to “tear France apart and from Europe.”

“We should unite on the values of the French republic of liberty, equality and fraternity,” he stated.

Some voters will abstain from voting for Macron despite their hatred to Le Pen. Elie al-Kadi, a French-Lebanese owner of a Parisian restaurant, said that he chose Francois Fillon in the first round of the presidential elections.

After his defeat however, “I will not vote for Macron, the ally of globalization, or Marine Le Pen, who is employing hatred to win as many votes as possible,” he explained.

This was a similar stance shared by Sahar Ibrahim, a French-Egyptian housekeeper, who initially backed Melenchon. She said that she will not vote for Le Pen, “whose principles contradict with mine” or Macron, who is Hollande’s “heir”.

It is clear that the overwhelming majority of the “Arab voice” will go to Macron, but some will favor Le Pen.

Nassim K., a French-Lebanese told Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone that he will vote for the far-right candidate because “France needs a strong president who can restore security, strike terrorism with an iron fist, reintroduce secularism and allow people to live in safety, especially in the major cities and suburbs.”

“Le Pen embodies these values, not Macron,” he stressed.

Macron Targeted in Massive Hack, France Warns against Republishing Campaign Emails


Leading French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s team said on Friday it had been the target of a “massive and coordinated hacking attack” that dumped its campaign emails online barely 24 hours before the election.

The centrist candidate’s staff said the release of thousands of emails, accounting documents and other files was an attempt at “democratic destabilization, like that seen during the last presidential campaign in the United States”.

As much as 9 gigabytes of data were posted on a profile called EMLEAKS to Pastebin, a site that allows anonymous document sharing. However, it was not instantly clear who was behind the action or if any of the data was genuine.

Macron’s assistants said the files were stolen weeks ago when several officials from his En Marche party had their personal and work emails hacked — one of “an intense and repeated” series of cyber-attacks against Macron since the launch of the campaign.

“Clearly, the documents arising from the hacking are all lawful and show the normal functioning of a presidential campaign,” aides said in a statement.

They further warned that whoever was behind the leak had mixed fake documents with real ones “in order to sow doubt and disinformation”.

The presidential election commission stated that it would hold a meeting later on Saturday after Macron’s campaign informed it about the hack and publishing of the data.

It urged the media to be careful about publishing details of the emails since campaigning is over and since some of the leaked data might be fake, adding that publication could lead to criminal charges.

Senior Le Pen aide Florian Philippot suggested on Twitter that the leak might contain information that the media had deliberately suppressed.

Emmanuel Macron: France’s Super Star


Paris – At 8:00 pm on Sunday night, French television channels will display the image of the new president of the country who will succeed Francois Hollande and lead the country for the next five years.

Up until this moment and if opinion polls are to be trusted, all indications point to centrist Emmanuel Macron achieving his dream of becoming the eighth president of the Fifth Republic in France. The polls show Macron winning 60 percent of Sunday’s runoff presidential vote, while his rival, the far-right’s Marine Le Pen obtaining 40 percent.

Macron’s supporters are sure of his victory in wake of Wednesday’s televised debate against Le Pen in which he emerged as the more confident candidate. The former minister of economy managed to maintain his cool when faced with the violent attack of his rival, who from the beginning of the debate did not spare him any accusations.

The young candidate always appeared keen on explaining his electoral platform and the measures he plans on adopting to help France out of its crisis. Le Pen on the other hand simply repeated general stances and headlines that Macron sought to pull apart. Even worse for the National Front leader, she seemed unconfident on her stances on Europe and the unified currency, terrorism, security, immigration and Islam. She was hoping to bridge the gap between her and Macron, but he was able to resist her assault, pushing her to make one final accusation that he has secret offshore accounts in the Bahamas.

Moscow’s Touches

Macron categorically denied Le Pen’s claims and he filed a complaint before the French judiciary, which immediately launched an investigation in the matter. The offshore claims first appeared on American websites, specifically from those that backed US President Donald Trump during his electoral campaign. In France, the claims were circulated on websites that are close to Russia.

It is clear that Le Pen’s electoral team resorted to this tactic to halt Macron’s march towards the Elysee Palace. His success, should it happen, will be taught at political science academies as the developments of the electoral campaign were similar to a play with several plot twists. The repercussions of his election will reshape France’s political landscape and its first indications will appear on Sunday night. They will be followed by parliamentary elections in June and their results will have a massive effect on the new president’s term. Macron will need a parliamentary majority to govern and questions have been raised about who this majority will be formed of, especially since several of those voting for him on Sunday are really doing so to prevent Le Pen from coming to power.

Success Story

In April 2016, then Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron kicked off a new French political movement, “En Marche!” (Forward!), which prompted political commentators to start talking about the ambitions of the then 38-year-old.

Gradually, debate that the minister “will not dare” run for presidency against his Hollande, “who made him,” began to grow. The Socialist president was the one to bring Macron “out of the unknown” when he appointed him as an economic advisor at the recommendation of Jacque Attali, the special advisor of former Socialist President Francois Mitterand. After Hollande’s election as president, Macron, the graduate of France’s École nationale d’administration, moved with him to the Elysee Palace to serve as deputy director of the presidency, while continuing to act as economic advisor. The next step in his rise on the political scene saw him appointed minister of economy in the government of then Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

It then came as a surprise that Macron decided to run for presidency, notably also because French presidents, whether from the left or right, usually run for a second term in office and Hollande was likely going to do so.

Macron: the Phenomenon

Political analysts agree that Hollande was indeed planning to run for reelection, but his recent poor political performance, due to his failure to make true on his economic and social pledges, diminished his chances of running and actually winning. The final blow came when Macron announced his candidacy in August without taking into account Hollande’s decision. He justified his move by noting Hollande’s political weakness, which came in evidence when he lost the primary of the Socialist Party to Benoit Hamon.

Macron sought to overcome the traditional divisions of right and left of French politics, while many did not take him seriously as a candidate, saying that he will not be able to prove himself against parties that have deep roots in French society. His rise is a real political phenomenon in France where he reflects a need for rejuvenation and openness, despite rivals labeling him the candidate of financial oligarchy. Le Pen went so far as to call him the candidate of “Islamic groups” and the immigrants. She also accused him of abandoning the French identity and of other claims that are aimed at discrediting him.

This is Politics

Macron, who is likely to become France’s next president, has in fact succeeded in marketing the European liberal economic policy without abandoning the fundamentals of protecting the citizens and preserving the central social guarantees of French society. The main challenge he will face if he becomes the eight president of the republic is reaping a parliamentary majority that will back him and provide the necessary political stability that will help him achieve the reforms he pledged to the people.

Votes for Macron however are not necessarily for him, but rather votes against Le Pen and fears that France will become the first major western country ruled by the far-right.

Ungrateful Heiress

From the beginning her presidential campaign, Le Pen sought to distinguish herself from other candidates. She presented herself as being “against the current system” and that she is the “candidate of the people.” The truth is that she is the only “political heiress” out of eleven candidates who ran in the first round of the presidential elections. Le Pen inherited the National Front from her father, Jean-Marie, who fought with his fellow colleagues in order to appoint her head of his party.

Furthermore, her claim that she is the “daughter of the people” is not true, because she has, since the day she was born, been living in a villa that was mysteriously inherited by her father by an old rich member of the National Front. He also inherited his money and became wealthy himself.

Political disputes on how to lead the party soon ensued between father and daughter and the case was taken to court, where Marine succeeded in stripping him of his honorary presidency. She later sought to remove him from the party altogether after she started to see him as an obstacle in her path to power.

Perhaps Le Pen and Macron are similar in that they both committed symbolic “patricide” whereby the latter removed his spiritual father Hollande from his path, while the former “neutralized” her father.

Le Pen succeeded in the seven years that she has been leading the National Front in transforming it into a party like any other in France when in the past it used to be shunned. She took advantage of the mistakes of the traditional parties and expanded her electoral base, which was evident in local and regional elections. The parliament remains a major obstacle seeing as the party only has two lawmakers representing it.

If Le Pen does not make it to the Elysee Palace, she has at least made it half the way. Furthermore, it will no longer be a hard ask for the National Front to win seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections. It may even gain enough seats to form an independent bloc that will guarantee her a political and parliamentary presence and enable her to further seep into the veins of the French state.

Times Have Changed

There was a time in the past when the members of the National Front used to hide their affiliation to the extremist party’s ideology and politics, but today, they are proud of belonging to it. This means that the psychological barrier that prevented the advance of the far-right has been broken. The terrorist attacks that have struck France in the past two years have only helped take it steps closer to power.

At the moment, it appears that France will not hand over the keys to power to the leader of the far-right, but the National Front has become a main player in the country. The parliamentary elections will test this observation and the France that used to be ruled by the traditional right and moderate left is no more. The political scene has been fragmented and is being rebuilt with the emergence of the polar opposites of Le Pen and Macron. It has been an arduous birth, not just for the leaders of the far-right, but to especially those who are absent in the final round of the presidential elections. These absentees, the republican party and socialists, are now dreaming that the parliamentary elections will pave the way for them to return to their familiar positions.

Security Concerns Raised after Greenpeace Unfurls Political Banner on Eiffel Tower


Greenpeace activists unfurled a political banner in broad daylight on the Eiffel Tower in Paris creating security concerns among the city’s police ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections.

Paris’s police chief called emergency talks after a dozen activists from the advocacy group climbed the north face of the vast metal-lattice structure, one of the world’s most visited sites, to hang a banner carrying the French national motto, “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity).

The incident exposed security concerns despite the fact that France is deploying extra police for voting day on Sunday. These come on top of thousands of police and soldiers mobilized following attacks by militants which have killed more than 230 people in France in the past two-and-a-half years.

“Above and beyond the motives, this publicity stunt, in the current climate, exposes faults in the security arrangements at the Eiffel Tower,” police prefect Michel Delpuech said.

At least three in four of France’s 47 million voters are set to go to polling stations throughout the day on Sunday to cast a ballot in a contest where centrist Emmanuel Macron is tipped to beat far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

The Eiffel Tower, in the heart of the capital nears the banks of the Seine River, attracts nearly 7 million visitors a year, not far short of 20,000 a day on average, according to its operators.

A dozen Greenpeace activists were detained for questioning, police sources said.

Beneath the French republican slogan in large black letters was the word “Resist”, a message directed against Le Pen and her party.

Greenpeace said a dozen activists were involved, hoisting a 300-square-metre banner at around 7:45 a.m, which is before normal business hours but well after dawn has broken at this time of year.

“We wanted to say we are against the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism in France and in other countries,” Greenpeace France’s head, Jean-Francois Julliard, added on public radio station francinfo.

It is “a warning against Marine Le Pen’s program and the dangers it poses for NGOs and others,” Julliard told reporters.

Defending basic rights “is critical to continuing our environmental struggle,” he added.

Earlier, Macron revealed that he had chosen as his prime minister someone with enough political experience to help bring together a legislative majority but refused to name his choice.

Despite a testy debate with Le Pen on Wednesday, Macron insisted that — should he win — she would be the first person he would call.

For her part, Le Pen said her anger during the debate is a reflection of the anger she sees throughout France.

In the last day of campaigning before the elections, Le Pen acknowledged the testy debate, criticizing Macron as the candidate of the elite and said the French have had enough of their political and economic situation.

An Opinionway poll later on Friday saw Macron beating Le Pen by 62 percent to 38 percent of Sunday’s vote.

The Lessons of the French Elections

As the French go to the polls Sunday to elect their new president, Europe and beyond it will be watching with some trepidation.

An upset victory by the hard-right finalist Marine Le Pen could cast a thick shadow of doubt over the future of the European Union at a time it is trying to absorb the shock of “Brexit”. In view of Ms. Le Pen’s ties to Moscow, such a dramatic turn of events would also rattle NATO at a time Russia is exerting proximity pressure on the outer fringes of the alliance.

With 48 hours to go to polling day, conventional wisdom would have us believe that a Le Pen victory is at best a remote possibility and that Emmanuel Macron, the surprise star of this presidential season, will walk his way into the Elysees Palace.

However, even if that optimistic version of events comes to pass, the election should be regarded as a stern warning to French democracy. This was the first time that the extreme ends of French politics collected almost half of all votes cast in the first round of presidential election. In 1969 the Communist standard-bearer Jacques Duclos won almost a quarter of the votes. This time Le Pen, Nicholas Dupont-Aignan, and Francois Asselineau, standard-bearers for the hard-right, together collected almost 27 per cent.

Add to that the 23 per cent won by hard-left candidates Jean-Luc Melanchon, the Trotskyite Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou of the News Anti-Capitalist Party (NAP) and you have almost half of the voters.

Taken together, the votes of both the hard right and the hard left indicate a rejection of the status quo with its well established dramatic personae and increasingly contested rules. The rejection may appear even wider than that if we assume that a good part of Macron’s electorate was also rejecting the status quo by choosing him a relative newcomer to French politics.

There will be cause for even more concern if we remember that Francois Fillon, the unsuccessful champion of the classical right who ended up with 18 per cent of the votes, had also borrowed some of the themes of the rejectionists, notably by adopting a pro-Russian posture on foreign policy.

Some analysts tend to dismiss all that as an outburst of protest votes, a passing thunderstorm in otherwise calm summer day. However, even if that were the case in any genuine democracy a protest vote is as valid as any other vote. And one function of all elections is to reflect the public’s disaffection, whether justified or not, with the status quo.

Other analysts point to the fact that most of the “extreme” voters, like those who clinched the victory in “Brexit”, are less educated, less informed, less well-off, and “less” in many other domains. However, a vote by a “less” voter counts as much as one cast by “more” one.

Whatever the outcome of Sunday’s votes at least three lessons could be drawn from this year’s presidential contest.

The first is that the mainstream parties, the Socialists and the Gaullists under different labels, have failed to convince the electorate that they could effectively address its concerns, justified or not. Together the two ended up with just under a quarter of the votes, their lowest score ever. Some analysts believe that the Socialist Party or even the Gaullist as well, will fade into oblivion. I don’t think that will happen. They represent the two ideologies that, in different variations, have dominated European politics for the past two centuries.

The second lesson is that, caught in their narrow ideological straitjackets, the two extremes are incapable of expanding their imagination beyond certain limits and thus could not be expected to rectify the wrongs they have highlighted.

The French hard-right of which Ms. Le Pen is the current face has never been able to grow beyond the fringes of French politics. In its various epiphanies, including Action Francaise, Algerie Francaises, the Organization of the Secret Army (OAS), or even the Boulangeriste and Poujadiste versions never morphed into mainstream ideologies. It could be argued that a version of it briefly formed the government during Marshall Petain’s rule under German suzerainty between 1940 and 1944.

As for the hard-left, for decades, it owed part of its power to solid support from the Soviet Union. Even fringe leftist groups such as Action Directe and other terrorist outfits of the left received ideological, if not material, nourishment, from Moscow.

The hard-right and the hard-left cannot be scripted out of French political life and, this time at least, may play a useful role by sounding the alarm about the failures, the weaknesses, and the structural defects of French democracy in its present shape.

Finally, the third lesson, one hopes, is that French democracy could emerge from its current turmoil stronger than before. This is not a Nietzschean boast. The current exercise shows that the democratic system can include the most extreme groups even to the point of welcoming them to the threshold of power.

The outburst of political extremes, from the xenophobic right to the populist left, has not been limited to France but has been a challenge to European democracy as a whole. Everywhere, European democracy has been able to contain those extremes, at times even putting their energies to use in the service of overdue reforms.

In Greece SYRIZA, a hard-left outfit had started as champion of the fight against the European Union. It is now EU’s local standard-bearer. In Spain, PODEMOS, has hit the outer limits of radicalism and is on the way to developing into a mainstream party of the left. In Austria, the hard-right presidential candidate reached the final round but was stopped by another outsider cast as the “Green” candidate. In Holland, Geert Wilders’ party appears to have realized its maximum electoral potential, an experience that seems likely to be repeated in Sweden and Denmark as well. In Italy, the system has already absorbed the shock of the extreme rejectionists led by the comedian Bepe Grillo.

In all those other European nations the extremes have managed to rock the boat but not to capsize it. Let’s see if the same happens in France on Sunday.

Macron, Le Pen Trade Charges in Angry Live Debate


French presidential candidates, far-right Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron, traded accusations as they disagreed over their vision of France’s future.

The French rivals clashed over terrorism, the economy and Europe in an ill-tempered television debate.

While Macron claimed his opponent was “unworthy” of holding the French presidency, Le Pen accused him of “groveling” in front of big banks, the EU and sectarianism.

Macron stressed that terrorism would be his top priority if he is elected and expressed doubts over Le Pen’s solutions.

“I will lead a fight against terrorism at every level. But what they are wanting, the trap they are holding out for us, is the one that you offer – civil war,” he stated.

Le Pen accused Macron of launching “project fear” over her plans. “The euro is the currency of bankers, not that of the people,” she said.

She also accused Macron of being “submissive” towards German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying: “France will be led by a woman, either me or Mrs Merkel.”

Frederic Dabi, an analyst with pollsters Ifop, said the debate was “extraordinarily violent, bitter (and) harsh”.

“Le Pen’s strategy was to push Macron into making a mistake, but she didn’t really succeed,” he told Reuters.

The two-and-a-half hour debate was a last major chance to change the dynamics of the race and persuade voters of the merits of Le Pen’s programme, which include cracking down on illegal immigration, ditching the euro and holding a referendum on EU membership.

A poll by the Elabe group for the BFM channel immediately afterwards showed that 63 percent of people interviewed found Macron the most convincing versus 34 percent for Le Pen.

Macron would win around 59 percent to 41 percent if the vote were held now, surveys suggest, but previous debates during the rollercoaster French campaign have shifted public opinion.

Le Pen Deliberately Lifts Part of Fillon Speech to Win over Conservatives


French Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen made a bold move during a recent speech when she lifted verbatim part of another delivered by former candidate Francois Fillon.

The far-right candidate lifted parts of a speech by the former prime minister in what her critics called plagiarism and she said was a deliberate “wink” to him to woo his conservative voters in France’s presidential runoff Sunday.

The stolen words and casual reaction by Le Pen and her team marked the latest shocking development in a French presidential campaign like no other. Perhaps more surprisingly, there was little sign it would seriously damage Le Pen.

Polls consider her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron the front-runner in the vote, seen as a test of global populism and decisive moment for the European Union.

Le Pen borrowed from a speech delivered last month by Fillon, the former Republicans party candidate, about France’s important role in Europe and the world.

The subject is at the heart of Le Pen’s campaign. She promises to restore French glory, pull France out of the EU and return to the franc currency. She has denounced the effects of globalization on the French economy and culture.

Speaking April 15, Fillon described France as a force reaching out on multiple fronts:

“The English Channel and the North Sea opening onto the Anglo-Saxon world and to the immense northern spaces. … The Atlantic, which has opened us for centuries onto the great sea and brings us adventures. The Mediterranean, the cradle of some of history’s oldest and richest civilizations. … The Pyrenees, first of all, engaging France with that immense Hispanic and Latin universe. The Alps border, with Italy our sister and beyond that central Europe, the Balkans and eastern Europe. … France is something more and much more than an economic, agricultural or military power.”

Le Pen, speaking Monday at a Paris region campaign rally, said:

“The English Channel and the North Sea opening onto the Anglo-Saxon world and to the immense northern spaces. The Mediterranean, the cradle of the oldest and richest civilizations. The Pyrenees, first of all, engaging France with that immense Hispanic and Latin universe. The Alps border, with Italy our sister and beyond that central Europe, the Balkans and eastern Europe. … France is something more and much more than an economic, agricultural or military power.”

Like three of her aides earlier in the day, Le Pen used the word “wink” to describe the extracts copied word for word from Fillon. At no point in the speech did she cite Fillon or acknowledge the source.

“I totally own this wink,” she said in a Tuesday night interview with French broadcaster TF1 news.

Le Pen added that her far-right National Front party and Fillon’s conservative voters share “the same vision of France, of its greatness, of the role it should have in the world.”

Fillon and his aides have not commented on Le Pen’s move, which puts his Republicans party in an awkward spot. However the website that revealed the copied text, Ridicule TV, is reported to be run by Fillon supporters.

Polls suggest that as many as a third of Fillon’s voters will choose Le Pen in the second round — but Fillon himself, immediately after being eliminated in the first-round vote April 23, urged voters to keep the long-pariah National Front out of power and vote instead for Macron.

A writer well-known in ultraconservative circles, Paul-Marie Couteaux, claimed credit for the passage used by both Le Pen and Fillon.

Couteaux expressed hope it would encourage right-wing voters to unite under a single banner. He tweeted Tuesday that the passage was borrowed from his 1997 book “Europe toward War.”

Couteaux has past links to both Fillon’s campaign and Le Pen, according to French media reports.

Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, her centrist rival in Sunday’s runoff election, have their only televised debate on Wednesday. Both are going after supporters of Fillon and the nine other candidates knocked out in the first round. France’s two main parties failed to make it to the second round for the first time in the country’s modern history.

Meanwhile, a senior FN official said on Wednesday that Le Pen would try to change France’s electoral law by referendum if she wins the presidency and her National Front fails to win a parliamentary majority in June.

She would then call new elections under the new rules. France holds parliamentary elections on June 11 and 18.

“If the new Assembly is hostile to us, we would change the electoral law via a referendum organized as soon as next summer, then the president would dissolve the National Assembly,” Gilles Lebreton, the FN official told Le Canard Enchaine newspaper.