The first round of the French presidential election is set to be held in a little under a month. On April 23, eleven candidates will face off, and the two who come out on top will proceed to a runoff on May 7. The result of this election will undoubtedly affect every citizen of the European Union, and by extension it will likely affect nearly everyone in the world. So if you’re not French and/or are unfamiliar with how the platform of each candidate will affect the greater global community, you’ve come to the right place. It is important to note that this article is not impartial, but rather starts with a description of the candidates and ends with an endorsement of one candidate from a global perspective. With that in mind, the first priority of the French electorate should be to defeat Marine Le Pen and the xenophobic nationalism that she stands for, and the best way to do so would be to elect Emmanuel Macron as the next president of France.
Of the eleven candidates, only five participated in the campaign’s first televised debate earlier this week. Benoît Hamon is running for the incumbent center-left Parti Socialiste (PS), François Fillon for the center-right Les Républicains (LR), Marine Le Pen for the far-right Front National (FN), Emmanuel Macron for his upstart centrist party En Marche! (EM), and Jean-Luc Mélenchon his upstart far-left party La France Insoumise (FI). Macron and Le Pen are currently leading in the polls, which, considering the poor performance of Fillon and Hamon, are indicative of a desire to shake up the establishment.
Hamon, for example, is unlikely to advance to the runoff because he belongs to the same party as François Hollande, France’s current president. Hollande’s presidency has been plagued by dismal economic growth and high unemployment, pushing his approval rating to historic lows. As a result, Hollande’s Parti Socialiste is expected to be punished for its poor governance. The PS is one of France’s two mainstream political parties, the second of which is Fillon’s Les Républicains. Although Fillon initially performed well in the polls, his popularity plummeted after it was discovered that he had used taxpayer funds to pay his wife and two children for a nonexistent jobs, essentially scheming the French people out of 900,000 Euros. As a result, the PS and LR have largely convinced the French electorate that mainstream politics is synonymous with fecklessness and corruption.
Thus the rise of the non-mainstream politicians, exemplified by Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. Le Pen’s FN, which was established by her father, has long been seen as a fringe party for its past anti-semitism and current Islamophobia. Macron, who is essentially running as an independent, has built a new political movement around himself in order to transcend the traditional boundaries between left and right. Considering his desire to leave mainstream parties behind, his relative youth (he is 39 years old), and his political background (he has never held elected office), he, too, is seen as a political outsider. Despite their shared outsider status, however, Le Pen and Macron could not be more different.
Macron, a former investment banker and Minister of the Economy, is economically to the right of the current socialist government. He is in favor of recent efforts to reduce employee protections, proposes spending cuts, seeks to reduce regulation, and would like to streamline the pension system. Nevertheless, he recognizes the need for a social safety net and has promised not to lengthen the workweek or cut pensions. He does not worship the free market, but he believes that the outdated, bloated French government is hindering the economy. Macron is also strongly in favor of the European Union. He would like to increase integration in defense and energy, and he seeks to “restore the credibility of France in the eyes of the Germans” (Bloomberg). His primary criticisms are that he is too inexperienced and that his economic program is vague and poorly developed.
Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, has been waiting for this moment for her entire life. The daughter of the founder of the FN, she has devoted her career to transition the party from an anti-semitic fringe to a viable contender. It is only a viable contender, however, in the unique time period in which we currently find ourselves. Her worldview is one in which globalization, Islam, and immigration are all malicious existential threats to the French Republic. She is like Donald Trump only much more articulate. She would like to strip dual citizens of their French citizenship, curtail immigration, and impose protectionist trade barriers. She has vowed to hold a referendum on France’s membership in the European Union.
The implementation of Le Pen’s policies would be nothing short of disastrous. France would become a diplomatic pariah. Protectionism would cause price of goods in France to rise. The European Union, which has its roots in the ruins of post-WWII Europe and has been crucial in maintaining European peace, would likely not be able to survive the secession of France. Furthermore, it is important to remember that, although Le Pen would likely disagree, France is objectively no longer a white, Christian country. She seems to believe that one cannot be French if one is Muslim, of Arab descent, or of African descent. If such a belief becomes government policy in a multicultural country, France’s Muslim, Arab, and African communities, which together contribute millions of French citizens, would suffer immensely. Le Pen’s worldview is, in short, a paranoid, ethno-nationalist revolt against the post-WWII order of increasing global cooperation. A Le Pen victory would threaten this order everywhere in the world, further strengthening groups whose ideologies looks strikingly similar to those that tore Europe apart in the 1930s. As a result, defeating Le Pen should be the primary concern of any observer who values global cooperation.
Ultimately, Macron is the best candidate to defeat Le Pen. He is a much more viable candidate than the corrupt Fillon. Unlike the more leftist candidates, he understands that the French economy must be liberalized if it wishes to remain competitive. Finally, and most importantly, he seeks to strengthen France’s position within the European Union. The Union’s reputation as a faceless bureaucracy controlled by Germany is part of what is causing the populist revolt against European integration. Of all the candidates, Macron is the one most likely to challenge this reputation. In doing so, the European Union would be strengthened rather than destroyed. Today is the Union’s 60th anniversary, a fitting occasion for us to remember the ultra-nationalist, militarized world that led to its creation. A Le Pen victory would bring us one step closer to that world, and a Macron victory would help ensure that we never return to it.