The jury is partially in.

French Elections Macron or Le Pen who will bring stability peace and growthEmmanuel Macron (left) and Marine Le Pen; Images source: Facebook
Voices Opinion Monday, April 24, 2017 - 18:47

Elections, especially national elections in Europe have become so shrill and divisive that vested interests see almost any vote as a referendum on leaving the European Union (EU) and the Eurozone. Earlier this year the Dutch laid that ambition of the disrupters to rest by a small margin and on Sunday the French have cast their first vote in favour of Europe. Later this year the Germans are expected to stay home and build a stronger Europe.

Build. If there’s one word that sums of the French vote on Sunday, it is build. In times of distress and uncertainty – and when the ‘war’ is an undeclared one – people vote for what they know, or at least what they think they can live with, build and work towards. France now has to pick between independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen who has all but emptied the entire alphabet promising to make France more French. She is xenophobic and bigoted and may well have run the course with her fear-mongering and absence of empathy. “Europeans are not Americans” was dinner table commentary in many European homes as the results started coming in on Sunday evening and somewhere I think I heard a sigh of relief. Wars beget wars and and even though the modern ones fought between western capitals come in three-piece suits and trading desks, the 2016 Brexit-Trump storm has failed to cross the Atlantic.

Macron and Le Pen now has two weeks to cut to chase. The 39-year-old former banker has promised to accelerate Eurozone integration by giving it a central parliament, a finance ministry and a budget, cut public sector jobs by some 120, 000 and cut corporation tax rates to give bosses more flexibility to negotiate working time with staff. This is music to French people who, when not on strike, are on vacation, unlike their German counterparts who work the least in Europe and are the world’s second largest exporters after China. It remains to be seen how Macros will fill the country’s coffers, rebuild the country's infrastructure and achieve social cohesion in a country where the social fabric is strained.

Le Pen has all but emptied the alphabet promising to make France more French at a time when immigration, terrorism and suspicion of the other is rife. She has promised to reduce illegal immigration, negotiate France’s exit from Eurozone and return the country’s frexit referendum and force retirement at 60 and expand family subsidies. Marine Le Pen went into the first round all guns blazing and it remains to be seen if she has any dry powder left to fire in the two weeks between now May 7th when France will have a new President. She may not benefit from a mobilisation of votes quite unlike the left votes now lining up behind Macron.

The runoff between Macron and Le Pen promises to be equally divisive for many reasons and this is where continental Europe is locking horns with waves of extreme right wing politics. Brexit, especially its aftermath has been a reason for reflection, terrorism, migrants and France’s own unemployment rate that is hovering around the European average of some ten per cent. France is also a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) granting it rights and responsibilities. The debates in major capitals around the world are reflected in European narratives and while solutions may be diverse, human fears remains the same.

Are the French looking for a new and more responsive system? French politics has long been dominated by the centre-left and centre-right parties but neither candidate – the far left’s Jean-Luc Mélanchon and the centre-right’s Francois Fillon – have made the cut. Socialist President Francois Hollande was so unpopular he didn’t campaign leaving the terrain open for votes to be split.

The failure of left parties in Europe is a trend and the fault lies with sheer absence of imagination and insensitivity on the part of leadership, especially in France which has seen the worst terrorist attacks on cities and civilians over the past two years. While leaders speak of global winners and losers,  global terrorism, global challenges and global responses, the immediate effects are felt by people either on their way to work or to the unemployment office wondering if they will reach either destination in one piece. Some 60 years ago when the Fifth Republic - a quasi presidential system that has governed the country since then - French leaders promised their people some sort of stability that also included absence of war. Now there is another kind of war from within - all eyes are riveted on May 7th. 

Views expressed are personal opinions of the author.

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