Upcoming French Elections: Why Macron Must Defeat Le Pen

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.

Crucial Elections to Follow in 2017

The numerous elections that took place in 2016 will likely come to be remembered as some of the most consequential in recent history. Many of last year’s elections will leave a lasting mark on the states of their countries, regions, and the world. Countless observers around the world reacted to the Brexit referendum and the United States presidential election with horror, and many will likewise view the coming of 2017 as a welcome riddance of the dreadful 2016. But like 2016, the year that lies ahead of us will bring more than a few elections that have the potential to continue disrupting the global political order. So which elections should you be paying attention to in 2017? Let’s find out.

Africa

In 2016, multiple African leaders attempted to extend their stays in power. Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo amended his country’s constitution to allow himself to run for a third time. Ultimately, he won the questionably conducted election. Burundi’s president also sought to amend his country’s constitution, as did Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda. In 2017, this trend is set to continue. While Kagame has already amended Rwanda’s constitution, his real test comes in August of this year when he will stand for reelection. If Kagame wins, as he almost certainly will, the defining trend of 2016 will stretch into 2017.

Another African country that is set to go to the polls is Angola. Despite being conducted under a de facto one-party state with weak democratic institutions, this election is nonetheless important because the current president of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, has promised to step down after 38 years in power. Not one to cede control easily, however, dos Santos has handpicked a former defense minister named João Lourenço as his successor as party leader. The question, then, is this: will Lourenço do the bidding of his predecessor, or will he forge a new path forward for Angola?

Asia

In 2014, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers took the streets after their government introduced electoral reforms that would affect the 2017 election of Chief Executive, the Special Administrative Region’s highest office. The reforms effectively required that any candidate for Chief Executive would have to be approved by the central government in Beijing. Hong Kong’s democratic culture has become increasingly incompatible with the mainland’s one-party rule since the former British Crown Colony reunited with the People’s Republic in 1997. This incompatibility flared once again when 5000 marched in a pro-democracy protest on New Year’s Day. As a result, the election this March, whose procedures caused so much controversy in 2014 and are once again beginning to draw ire, is likely to be very tense.

 

Iran is also preparing to hold polls for its highest elected office, that of the President. While many in the West view Iran as an ultra-conservative theocratic pariah, most don’t realize that it has a large reformist bloc within its government. In fact, the current president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, is a moderate, and the Iran nuclear deal would never have passed if the government had been controlled by more conservative lawmakers. In 2017, however, Iran’s moderates are under threat. First of all, their promise of immediate economic gains following the removal of Western sanctions failed to live up to the hype. Furthermore, one of Iran’s former presidents and arguably the most influential figure behind the Iranian moderates, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, passed away last week. As a result, Rouhani and the moderates have lost a crucial ally, weakening their prospects for the May 2017 elections and increasing the likelihood of an Iran that is once again isolated from the international political scene.

Europe

Of all the elections that will be affected by the trends of 2016, none will be more heavily influenced than those in Europe. The very same forces that gave rose to Brexit and Trump are still on the rise across Europe, and they have been empowering far-right nationalist parties who will be seeking electoral gains in 2017. The Netherlands, France, and Germany are all holding crucial elections, and each could have a significant effect on the fate of not only their own countries, but the European Union as a whole.

In the Netherlands, the anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic Party for Freedom is riding on the momentum of the very same backlash against globalization that helped boost Trump and the Leave campaign. In France, Marine Le Pen’s ultra-nationalist Front National is widely expected to advance to the second round of the presidential election. In Germany, Angela Merkel will struggle to remain in power after her openness to refugees proved wildly unpopular with the German people. At a time when far-right parties are actively advocating for the dissolution of the EU, the outcome of these elections will determine the future of the organization. Like the elections of 2016, they will, in many ways, force voters to choose between two conflicting worldviews: one of internationalism and another of nationalism.

Ultimately, as much as we may want to make 2016 disappear forever, the forces that affected elections last year will continue to do so this year. In Africa, a handful of authoritarian leaders will continue attempting to use flawed elections to gain legitimacy. In Asia, rival factions in Hong Kong and Iran will continue to quarrel. In Europe, national elections will be fought between internationalists and nationalists. As consequential as 2016 was, 2017 will likely be the same. For this reason, we must diligently follow each of these elections. They will come with implications for everyone, not just those who are casting the ballots.

Poland, The World Order, and A Tale of Two Donalds

In 1795, Poland was wiped off the map. Partitioned between Prussia, Russia, and Austria, the country would not reemerge for over a century. 98 years ago from yesterday, the First World War ended and Poland reemerged as an independent state. As a result, November 11 is celebrated as Poland’s National Independence Day. This year, however, Poland’s government did not laud the country’s independence. Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the country’s governing party, the Law and Justice Party, instead lamented the loss of sovereignty to the European Union. Meanwhile, tens of thousand of Polish citizens took to the streets of Warsaw. They set off flares, shouted ultranationalist slogans, and carried banners. One banner read “God, Honor, Fatherland,” and another read “Death to the enemies of the fatherland.”

In recent years, Poland has lurched far to the right. It has cultivated nationalism and rejected internationalism. It is riding the very same wave that has led to the election of Donald Trump in the United States, Brexit in the United Kingdom, and the shift in public opinion throughout Western Europe. Contrary to what many in the United States believe, it is impossible to escape this wave by fleeing to Canada. The people of Poland, Europe, and the world, too, appear to be rejecting the very foundations of the post-WWII global order.

Ever since Law and Justice took power last year the Civic Platform Party, once led by a man named Donald Tusk, Poland has turned sharply away from the European Union and towards authoritarian nationalism. It has gutted the country’s highest court, strengthened its grip on the media, promoted “traditional” catholic values, encouraged nationalism and xenophobia, rejected refugees, and taken a strongly eurosceptic position. Yet economically, it is not right-wing as imagined by most Americans. It is a strong proponent of the social safety net and opposes cuts to welfare spending. Thus its platform can be described a fusion of right-wing ultranationalism and left-wing socialism.

This same recipe is taking the world by storm. Donald Trump won the US presidency with the same formula, appealing to “America first” white nationalism while also pursuing protectionist and pro-welfare policies. Brexit, too, followed this formula, combining little-Englander nationalism with the economic concerns wrought by globalization. France’s FN, whose Marine Le Pen is set to be one of the country’s presidential candidates in 2017, is also staunchly protectionist while at the same time encouraging a resurgence in French nationalism. Political parties that merge left and right in a rejection of international integration have sprung up across The West.

While this ideology may seem like an honest expression of the alienation of the working people, it is in truth an insidious affront to the very ideals upon which the post-WWII global order was built. To see why, one needs not look any further than the Second World War. One of the most important effects of the Second World War was that it taught the lesson of how democratic systems of government come crashing down. When the global financial system crashed in 1929, economic insecurity skyrocketed. When faced with economic adversity, the population responded by blaming outsiders and retreating into nationalist tribes. Lower living standards made the people susceptible to grandiose promises to restore prior glory. The ability to recognize nuance was destroyed by fear, anger, and oversimplified narratives. As a result, Germany’s “national socialist” party would lead the world into a dark cloud of genocide and war.

Out of the ashes of Europe rose a new western order based on the ideals of international integration and multiculturalism. Leaders convened to ensure that the lessons of the Second World War would be learned and its horrors never repeated. Leaders promoted economic growth and created welfare states to ensure that citizens would never become so economically downtrodden that they felt compelled to blame scapegoats. They promoted globalization and economic integration to make countries dependent on one another and therefore more likely to cooperate. They embraced a multicultural society as a rejection of the racist horrors of the Second World War. Today, the champion of these values is the European Union, and Poland’s loudest cheerleader for these values is former-Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the European Union has spread its model across Eastern Europe. Poland transitioned to democracy, became a member of NATO in 1999, became a member of the European Union in 2004, and has has seen some of the greatest gains of any country following the fall of communism. Like the rest of The West, Poland has enjoyed relative stability and prosperity under the guidance of the post-WWII order. International dependence has meant that no major war has broken out between global powers, international trade has opened up markets and enabled economic growth that has lifted millions into the middle class, and international interaction has meant that the world has become far more tolerant towards individuals from different backgrounds and nationalities. The benefits of this system were so apparent to the Polish people that, in 2011, they re-elected a Prime Minister for the first time. That Prime Minister was Donald Tusk, and he is now the President of the European Council, one of the most important bodies of the European Union.

Yet the events of yesterday indicate that millions of Polish citizens have now rejected the international global order. And as of earlier this week, so too have millions of American citizens. Across Europe and the United States, the far-right is once again wedding nationalism and socialism. At no time since the end of the Second World War have these two ideologies been so closely intertwined. And at no time since the end of the Second World War has the international integration that ushered in stability and prosperity been so threatened.

The all-important question, then, is whether this rejection is temporary or permanent. Is it the desperate dying breath of an old ideology of division, or is it the violent awakening of a new chapter in the international state of affairs? In order to ensure that this new wave of illiberalism does not threaten the stability and progress enjoyed by The West since the end of the Second World War, European leaders must not let their continent go in the same direction as the United States. Now that the enforcer of the current global order has abandoned it, it us up to the leaders of the European Union to position itself as the global defender of international integration and cooperation. Donald Tusk, meet Donald Trump. You may have lost Poland to this movement, but it is not too late to save Europe and the world. Good luck.

 

Letter to (Some) Liberals: Israel is Here to Stay

Over in the United Kingdom, a controversy has been brewing as Ken Livingston, the former mayor of London, was suspended from the Labour Party for comments that were deemed anti-semitic. A few weeks before, a Harvard Law student was criticized for calling a visiting Israeli politician “smelly.” And before that, the University of California released a statement condemning anti-semitism in response to accusations that criticism of Israeli policy had taken on a more sinister tone. Across the United States and Europe, it appears that a minority of liberals has begun to express opposition to the very idea of Israel’s right to exist. While criticism of Israeli policies are usually completely justified, the claim that Israel has no right to exist is at odds with liberal ideology.

The recent surge in anti-zionism has its roots in liberal opposition to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Over this course of this occupation, Israel has built illegal settlements on Palestinian land, has arguably responded to Palestinian protest with excess force, has blockaded the Gaza Strip, and has enforced overtly discriminatory policies. There is widespread consensus that these actions constitute human-rights abuses. On top of it all, the current Israeli government has shown little commitment to restoring peace and dignity to the Palestinians. As a result, it is no surprise that liberals, who value equality and the respect of human rights, object to Israel’s actions. Yet channeling opposition of these policies into a hatred of Israel is a gross oversimplification of a complex conflict. Thus, while the criticism of Israel’s policies can and perhaps should be encouraged, the small group of liberals that condemns Israel’s mere existence should rethink their beliefs.

Israel was founded as a refuge for persecuted Jews. In the years following the Holocaust, it became clear that such a refuge would be a welcome addition to the world. Now, its Jewish residents have called it home for generations. Over the years, it has developed into the strongest democracy in the Middle East. It has a prosperous economy and is a beacon of stability in an unstable region. For that reason, it is a stalwart military ally of the West. It is unfortunate that such progress came at the expense of Palestinians, but to argue that Israel should be dissolved is foolish based on both strategic realities and liberal principles.

To many, it appears that Israeli Jews have switched sides. They’ve gone from the oppressed to the oppressor. And because they are the oppressor, that means that some liberals consider them the enemy. Such reasoning is incoherent. To direct one’s anger at millions of innocent Israeli Jews is an example of the same generalization and lack of empathy that many liberals take pride in loathing. While Israel certainly is oppressing Palestine, we must still remember that Israel is a nation of individuals who, like everyone else, deserve our consideration. Those who condemn Israel’s existence seem to forget that.

For this reason, criticisms of Israel should be kept within the realm of politics. We must always feel free to criticize policies and governments, but we must refrain from judging an entire country or people. It is judgements like these that we liberals hate most. This is a very complicated conflict, and we liberals owe it to both the Israelis and Palestinians to consider every facet of the issue before coming to a conclusion.