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The End of the First Round

The End of the First Round

The last few days in France were relatively quiet: the candidates were doing their final events, and the polls and news coverage stopped for a period lasting from Saturday midnight to 8 pm Sunday, as required by law.   The French voted on Sunday; by 8 

Campaign Chronicles: The Peoples’ Primary

Campaign Chronicles: The Peoples’ Primary

He’s a left-wing Catholic who founded an interfaith coalition.  She’s an environmental activist who was reportedly brought to tears when she heard about the melting permafrost in Siberia.  Just a couple of crazy kids who got together after the covid lockdown and decided to put 

Countdown

Countdown

The first round of the French elections will take place tomorrow, on Sunday, April 10.  The results should be known by or a little after 8 pm French time, or about 2 pm in the eastern time zone of the US.  By the end of the first round, all but two of the candidates will be out of the race.  The two remaining will be Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.  Neither will win a 50% majority, and they may only be two or three points away from each other in the results; indeed, Marine Le Pen could conceivably take a slight lead over Macron, though that is probably unlikely.  Various second-round polls have shown that a Macron-Le Pen match-up would be only a few percentage points apart (not the 66%-33% of the 2017 race).  And a great deal of the final vote depends on abstention, which has been reaching record highs in recent years.

Marine Le Pen is a populist.  She admires Trump and Nigel Farage (Brexit), and in 2017 projected a victory for herself as the third triumph in that year.  She called for a “Frexit” in 2017, or a French exit from the European Union.  

Ursula Von der Leyen in Kyiv, bringing membership documents in the European Union to President Zelensky

Though Le Pen has not used the term “Frexit” in her campaign, she has spoken around it, calling (in the stilted language of the party program) for “the creation of a European Alliance of Nations which has as a mission to substitute itself progressively for the European Union.  This Europe of free and sovereign nations, embracing its heritage of the [past] millennium, will be that of cooperation; and will put an end to the project of those who want to make of the EU an ideological federalist  super-State (Programme, p. 19).  One of the first to join would be Victor Orbán, whom she recently congratulated for his victory.

“Congratulions to Viktor Orbán for his overwhelming victory in the legislative elections in Hungary. When the people vote, the people win!”

She will accomplish this and other measures through the RIC, or Référendum d’Initiative Citoyenne (29).  This measure, which became the chief goal of the Gilets Jaunes, is essentially a plebiscite, which could easily be manipulated by Facebook and others, including the Russia propaganda channel RT (Russia Today), currently silenced in France.  RT would almost surely be restored, in the name of free speech.

As for NATO, Marine Le Pen has called for a disengagement of French forces from the integrated NATO command.  She has a long-standing admiration for Putin, and visited him in Moscow during her campaign in 2017.  A Putin-affiliated bank lent her the money for her earlier campaign.  What Putin failed to accomplish with Trump–the destruction of NATO–could be accomplished with Le Pen.

Le Pen looked weak in the summer of last year, after the trouncing of the Rassemblement National in the regional elections; none of the RN slates came in first.  But the slates did come in second or third or fourth in many regions, retaining their strength in the countryside, which Macron’s very new party does not have.  

Last summer’s focus on Le Pen as the “loser” in the Regionals, the narrative that young people and others were getting tired of her, may have been instrumental in Eric Zemmour’s decision to enter the presidential race (his perception combined, to be sure, with arrogance and egotism).  Zemmour is fading fast, taking down with him some of those prominent RNs who joined the sinking ship of his party, Reconquête!  Le Pen’s fierce struggle with Zemmour for the soul of the extreme right seems, in contrast, to have strengthened her.  

Le Pen’s polished campaign machinery has done much of the rest.  They cleverly took advantage of Macron’s slogan, “Avec vous” (With you) with this clever play on words, “Sans lui” (Without him), “Avec elle” (with her).

Marine Le Pen transformed the image of the old National Front, from its name to her stated determination that the RN should become a governing party.  What remains of the old Front is what was always there: nativism and antisemistism, joined by a virulent anti-Islam strain, enhanced by the overt statement that the European French will be dominated by Black and Brown Muslims of immigrant stock by 2050, unless immigration is stopped.

It is likely that Macron will pull off a victory, though it may be a narrow one.  If Le Pen were to win, the next rampart would be the National Assembly elections; it is dominated by Macron’s party now.  The Socialist Party would likely not be a bulwark, but Les Républicains might; though they, too, have an extremist wing that would be willing to support a number of Le Pen’s initiatives.  

The term of National Assembly deputies is five years, along with the president; there are no mid-term course corrections.  The European Parliament elections, last held in 2019, are held every five years (thus in 2024) but they will not change what is going on in France itself, and may do more harm than good to the EU.  The RN has always run most strongly in these MEP elections, for which the seats are assigned proportionally, rather than in two rounds.  This electoral method revealed, in the last election, about 25% of the voters who backed Le Pen; and one of her proposed constitutional changes is to substitute proportional representation for the National Assembly.

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The Rassemblement national program (party platform):

https://mlafrance.fr/pdfs/manifeste-m-la-france-programme-presidentiel.pdf

See also:

Noemie Bisserbe and Matthew Dalton, “In France, Inflation Tightens Race Between Macron and Far-Right Le Pen,” The Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2022.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-france-inflation-worries-fuel-tight-presidential-race-11649419200

Roger Cohen, “With Macron and Le Pen Leading Election Field, a Fractured France Decides,” The New York Times, April 9, 2022.  https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/09/world/europe/french-presidential-election-marcon-le-pen.html

Jonathan Freedland, “Putin still has friends in the west–and they’re gaining ground,” The Guardian, April 8, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/apr/08/vladimir-putin-viktor-orban-eu-marine-le-pen

(In English) Gilles Paris, “The election of Marine Le Pen is now a possibility,” Le Monde, April 6, 2022.  https://www.lemonde.fr/le-monde-in-english/article/2022/04/06/the-election-of-marine-le-pen-is-now-a-possiblity_6120841_5026681.html

Campaign Chronicles: Anne Hidalgo and the Disappearing Socialist Party

Campaign Chronicles: Anne Hidalgo and the Disappearing Socialist Party

The Socialist Party candidate, Anne Hidalgo, twice elected as mayor of Paris, seems firmly fixed at about 2% in the polls.  That is where she started, and that is where she will apparently end.  And yet she has been a successful mayor known for shutting 

Campaign Chronicles: #McKinseyGate

Campaign Chronicles: #McKinseyGate

We are now on the eve of the first round of the French presidential elections (April 10), and Emmanuel Macron has come under fire for the excessive use of private consulting firms for matters involving  state policy.  The issue does not sound especially scandalous.  It 

Campaign Chronicles: Fabien Roussel

Campaign Chronicles: Fabien Roussel

Since Emmanuel Macron has refused a regular debate before the first round, TF1 came up with a substitute format–a succession of candidates, each alone on the stage, each giving a closing statement, and answering the questions put forward by two moderators.  The candidates took varying amounts of time, but were roughly between 18-20 minutes–about the amount of time they might get, or a bit more, in a regular multi-candidate debate.  Without interruptions.  Without pre-scripted “zingers.”  Without shouting over each other.  Without the shouting of the questioners, as they tried to keep order.  It worked, and it’s something that the United States, in these early multi-candidate debates, might consider.  

The order of the candidates was determined by the drawing of lots.  Someone had to be last, and that was Fabien Roussel, the Communist Party candidate (PCF).  His turn came at the end of nearly three hours, and he gave an audible sigh as he stepped on stage, wearing a blue and yellow boutonnière on his lapel.

The first question was about Ukraine and he said, directly and without the hedging or reluctance that characterized certain other responses, that Putin was the aggressor and that he had violated national sovereignty and international law.  He included criticism of the United States as the “grand gendarme of the world,” but “let there be no mistake”–there was one aggressor in this situation, and that was Putin.

Like other candidates who have proposed leaving NATO, he said that “of course” France should not leave NATO now, in the midst of war, but down the road, there should be another kind of security force of the European continent (presumably excluding the United States).

And as for what he would do in the current situation?  What Macron has done; he stated that France should “speak with one voice” in foreign conflicts.

Sounds like a great idea.

The last time that the Communist Party of France (PCF) ran an independent presidential candidate was in 2007, when Marie-Georges Buffet came in with under 2% of the electorate.  In 2012 and 2017 the Party supported Jean-Luc Mélenchon as the candidate of the Front de Gauche (2012) and then of La France Insoumise (2017).  Such a strategy–the union of the Far Left–has risks for the Communist Party, and one of them is the slow sinking into irrelevance, and the loss of seats, both in the National Assembly and throughout France.

When Fabien Roussel was elected as head of the Party, in 2018, he did so with an explicit pledge to run a separate presidential campaign.  He is at about 4-5% in polls–which might be, some fear, just enough of a percentage to keep Mélenchon out of the second round.  This conventional wisdom may be wrong; it’s not clear that French voters are torn between varieties of the left, but rather between varieties  of populism, whether left or right.

Perhaps Roussel’s biggest obstacle is to explain how he differs from Jean-Luc Mélenchon and La France Insoumise (LFI).  Many commentators have suggested that he has successfully done so.

Roussel did so in this debate, for example, by reiterating his support of nuclear power: it is cleaner, it puts price controls within the control of the nations, and France’s nuclear power grid is an “enormous asset.”  Windmills and solar power alone, he suggested, won’t do it.

He has separated himself simply by running separately, despite the great pressure to unify the Left.  

Perhaps most importantly, he has broken with LFI in regard to Islam and its place in France.  Roussel has not gone down the route of attacking immigration, which is well-covered by the right; rather, he has focused on culture, and on a very strict version of laïcité, or secularism.  Secularism might be defined as keeping religion out of government; a more rigorous form, which Roussel follows, refers to keeping religion out of the public sphere entirely–no overt signs, no religious dress, no public prayers.  The 2004 legislation (under Chirac) that banned headscarves and other overt religious symbols in public schools reflected that ideology; so too did the 2010 ban (under Sarkozy) of burqas, and headgear that covered the face, in public.

On January 9, 2022, he tweeted what seems like a fairly innocuous statement, calling for a more just division of wealth: “Good wine, good meat, good cheese: that’s good French cooking.” The best way to defend it, is to permit the French to have access to it.”

All heck broke loose.  

Roussel was accused of cultural insensitivity.  Not everyone drinks wine.  Lots of people like couscous.  What about the climate, and the environmental cost of animals?  Meat might mean pork, and not everyone eats pork.  (Valérie Pécresse included a small nod to the controversy in her Zenith speech, changing the wording to “Charolais [cattle] and wine.”)

He had committed other acts that had offended, including taking a prominent role at a commemoration of the Charlie Hebdo massacre–alongside Caroline Fourest, a prominent feminist and critic of what she calls “Islamic Totalitarianism.”  One of the members of his party, Deputy Elsa Faucillon, tweeted her displeasure.

“Obviously the PCF can and should organize homages to Charlie. Last evening went well beyond homage: the selection of guests confirms a political turn carried out by my party for the past several months. And the Printemps républicain [a secularist group that is opposed to “political Islam”] is rubbing its hands together [in glee].”

Amar Bellal, member of the PCF national bureau (and Roussel’s advisor on energy) described the tweet as “indecent,” noting that the families had wanted this tribute, that Fourest and others had been friends of Charb [Stéphane Charbonnier, the director of publication of Charlie Hebdo and killed in the shooting), and that as such they had a right to be there.

With these acts Roussel has commanded  attention as a victim of wokisme–to the point that some have suggested he might have provoked all of this deliberately.

The PCF believes in the classic class struggle of workers against capitalists; LFI believes in intersectionality–that society itself, including the laboring classes, is divided by gender, race, and religion, as well as by class.  Under Roussel, the PCF stands for militant secularism; LFI has been notably receptive to a softer version, which allows for the existence of and supports the tolerance of all religions, including their visibility in the public sphere.

Whether Roussel’s acts, including the tweet, were intentional or not, he has succeeded in differentiating the French Communist Party from La France Insoumise rather decisively.

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Header Image from Shutterstock.com.

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The full debate of La France face à la guerre can be seen on tf1.fr. Snippets of it can be seen on YouTube.

Amine El Khatmi, “‘Soutenir Fabien Roussel face aux attaques, c’est soutenir une certaine idée de la gauche,’” Marianne, January 14, 2022.https://www.marianne.net/agora/tribunes-libres/amine-el-khatmi-soutenir-fabien-roussel-face-aux-attaques-cest-soutenir-une-certaine-idee-de-la-gauche

Céline Pina, “Fabien Roussel, candidate de la gauche laîque et républicaine sacrifié sur l’autel du wokisme,” Le Figaro, February 9, 2022.https://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/politique/fabien-roussel-candidat-de-la-gauche-laique-et-republicaine-sacrifie-sur-l-autel-du-wokisme-20220209

Hadrien Brachet, “De laïcité au nucléaire: Elsa Faucillon, la députée communiste anti Fabien Roussel,” Marianne, February 4, 2022.https://www.marianne.net/politique/gauche/de-la-laicite-au-nucleaire-elsa-faucillon-la-deputee-communiste-anti-fabien-roussel

Campaign Chronicles: The Smirk

Campaign Chronicles: The Smirk

Emmanuel Macron has stated that he will not debate before the first round of elections, which will take place on April 10.  If he were to do so, he would be facing eleven other candidates who would devote much of their time to attacking him; 

Campaign Chronicles: Zenith

Campaign Chronicles: Zenith

One of the most destructive aspects of the Electoral College in the United States is that it locks the country into a two-party system.  If one of those parties is taken over by an unfit individual with authoritarian ambitions and doubtful loyalty to the country 

Campaign Chronicles: The Rally at Toulon

Campaign Chronicles: The Rally at Toulon

With the Russian attack on Ukraine, French presidential candidate Érik Zemmour has been in something of a quandary.  He had praised Russia for many years; according to a recent article in Le Journal du Dimanche, he had been courted, even groomed, as an “opinions makers” (sic) by one of the oligarchs since 2015.  Little wonder: in December 2014 he had published an editorial praising Putin for his “rejection of the West, with the temptations of its nihilist, globalist, immigrationist, feminist, gay friendly ideology.”

Zemmour’s glib pontifications on civilization and culture, which have led many to see him as an important intellectual, have served him well with certain groups; for the young, he is a sort of French Ayn Rand.  The journal Marianne examined the two recently created Zemmouriste student groups at the elite Sciences Po: Génération Z, founded in September 2021, and Réconquête-Sciences Po, created in early 2022.  Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) had never gained any traction at the school; one of the representatives of another student group suggested shrewdly that the reason was that the voters of Rassemblement National were too “popular,” too lower class.  

With the invasion of Ukraine, Zemmour’s glosses on history and Putin, his determination to exit NATO, his dismissal of the Ukrainian ordeal as a “distraction,” have become increasingly insupportable.

Time for a reset.

The rally at Toulon–the historic naval port of the Mediterranean–drew an enthusiastic crowd, no doubt building on the embedded conservatism in the south as well as the decades-old strength of Le Pen’s National Front.

The first speakers had recently rallied to Zemmour.  Senator Stéphane Ravier, a longtime member of the National Front, is a native son of Marseille, and was thus on home turf; he gave a rousing speech that was at one point interrupted by a spontaneous crowd rendition of la Marseillaise. 

Next came Guillaume Peltier, who had come to Zemmour from Les Républicains; he name-checked Clovis, Capet, Jeanne d’Arc, Bonaparte, De Gaulle, the “army of shadows” (the Resistance); and described Zemmour as “a Berber Jew, sent by Providence to save France.”  Hmmm.  (Zemmour is Jewish, but culturally supports the Catholic religion as the tradition of France; it’s unclear how observant he is.  And his parents immigrated to France from Algeria, but he himself was born in France.)

Then came Philippe de Villiers, scion of an old noble family (his full name includes several additional particles and place names), an entrepreneur and politician; his brother, Pierre de Villiers, was the former chief of staff who resigned after a quarrel with Macron over the military budget.  Zemmour, who has called for increasing the military budget substantially, made reference to that incident in his speech.

It was Villier’s privilege to introduce the major prize of the meeting: after weeks of  speculation, Marion Maréchal–the niece of Marine Le Pen–was formally endorsing Éric Zemmour.  She is a political figure in her own right, serving one term as a deputy, followed by an unsuccessful run to be the Regional President of Paca (Provence-Alpes Maritimes-Côte d’Azur, the Riviera stronghold of the Le Pens); she is the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen and is considered closer to him and frontisme than Marine is.

Philippe de Villiers asked his audience to imagine they were looking over the harbor, and could see a figure striding in: “She is blonde.  She is beautiful.  She is conquérante.”  Sound and light.  Movie trailer music.

Maréchal admitted that this had been a very hard decision for her–for family reasons, of course, and because she had left politics five years ago (after the 2017 elections). She had been discouraged.  But now she believed that victory was possible, that the union of the right, which she had always wanted, could actually occur.

But for all the excitement, the speech was not all that memorable:  Macron has divided us, has disrespected the gilets jaunes, has created divisions between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. . . . Immigration. . . . robot algorithms . . . confusion of the sexes . . . tearing down statues . . . . Nous sommes chez nous (This is our land) . . . At one point, as she was running through the litany and had reached wokeism, she laughed.  She seemed to be laughing at someone in the audience, but for a brief moment I wondered whether she might be laughing at the banality of what she was saying.  

She is indeed a magnetic presence and a good speaker.  But she was, at Toulon, something of an anticlimax.

And Les Républicains candidate Valérie Pécresse, who has a crackerjack oppo research team, was soon out with this montage of Maréchal through the years:

“I would like to have dinner with Putin, he is a phenomenal geopolitical strategist.”

“I believe that the French media demonization of Russia and even of Putin, through disinformation . . .”

“French media has an anti-Russian bias, in which Russia is accused, through insinuation, of crimes against humanity . . .” 

Once again, the desire to have dinner with Putin, “one of the things to do in life.”

[She attended a Russian conference open only to those in European parties favorable to Putin.  She was the only representative from France to accept the invitation; she considered it an honor.]

“Russia is, for us, an element of hope. . . .” 

“I believe that in France, one has a vision of what Russia is that is completely false.  . . .”

“When we look at democracies throughout the world, we should look, a little bit, at ourselves. . . .”

“France, in deciding to reintegrate into NATO, has become the victim, perhaps the accomplice, of the famous Brzezinski doctrine, which induced  the Americans to separate Russia from Europe, and Ukraine from Russia (my emphasis).”

“There’s no reason to debate again today over whether Crimea belongs to Russia (my emphasis).”

“Yes, I think France should get out of NATO, we humiliated Russia by not delivering the Mistrals, in refusing to the Russian military the power to . . . [Interruption: We should deliver the Mistrals?] Yes, certainly.”  [See The New York Times article below.]

“Even in going to the National Assembly, I cross the Alexandre III bridge, which was also offered by Russia; thus in going to work every day I think of you [Russia or Putin].”  

Many roads do indeed lead to Putin.

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Header image by Shutterstock.com

Robin d’Angelo, “Info JDD. Quand les Russes choyaient Éric Zemmour,” Le Journal du Dimanche, March 5, 2022.  https://www.lejdd.fr/Politique/info-jdd-quand-les-russes-choyaient-eric-zemmour-4097637

“Les jeunes pro-Zemmour à Sciences Po: ‘C’est la droite catholique qui s’est radicalisée,”’ Marianne, February 11, 2022.  https://www.marianne.net/politique/droite/les-jeunes-pro-zemmour-a-sciences-po-cest-la-droite-catholique-qui-sest-radicalisee?utm_source=nl_quotidienne&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20220211&xtor=EPR-1&_ope=eyJndWlkIjoiODFhNjM3ZmI3NTRhNjE0MTcwNTBlNWE5ODc1NmE3Y2MifQ%3D%3D

Michael R. Gordon, “France’s Sale of 2 Ships to Russians Is Ill-Advised, U.S. warns,” The New York Times, May 14, 2014.  https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/15/world/europe/frances-sale-of-2-warships-to-russia-worries-us.html

The full rally at Toulon, on YouTube: https://youtu.be/H12GWJRktJc

Campaign Chronicles: Mélenchon and NATO

Campaign Chronicles: Mélenchon and NATO

The French presidential elections will be held on April 10 and April 24.  The newly elected president will take office on May 13.  The results of these elections have the potential to hinder, if not destroy, the NATO and European Union effort to stop Russian