Carl Sacklen

The French are Abandoning Traditional Politics

In a normal election, the many French would be voting along the traditional political lines of left and right, and many may know who they’d be voting for before campaigning even started.

This hasn’t been a normal year, however. Macron’s new party “En Marche!” is likely to occupy a place in the final run-off at the expense of either the Socialist or Republican Party. The other space could very well be taken hostage by the far right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Following a scandal involving payments to family members, Republican candidate Fillon is flailing, and the Socialist party’s candidate Hamon is lagging behind with a feeble 12.5% according to a French polling company Elabe. The Republicans and Socialists, who have held power since the fifth republic’s founding in 1958, could for the first time not be the ones heading up French politics; indicative of the global trend of abandoning traditional left-right politics.

The move, it seems, is one towards open politics versus closed politics. France, rattled by terror attacks, disheartened by poor growth, and some even disillusioned with the EU project, are turning to less conventional parties that tap into this frustration.

Macron’s party does so by calling for greater openness. A risky tactic in the era of Brexit and Trump, the pro-EU Macron advocates pro-trade and pro-immigration policies. Like his Republican opposition, but to a lesser extent, he also wants to loosen labour laws, which currently have at times allowed trade unions to take whole industries hostage. Macron argues that easing the hiring (and firing) of French workers will boost employment.

The antithesis of a staunch pro-globalist, Le Pen is an embodiment of the era. Highly nationalist and fundamentally opposed to the EU, she blames France’s ills on its current embrace of the outside world. She wants to adopt an isolationist policy which she argues will protect French workers. The merits of this are certainly up for debate but it is a popular policy among French voters nonetheless. She’s also wooing voters with the promise of greater welfare and a radical reduction on immigration.

Le Pen’s policies would hurt rather than help the French; protectionism would leave them with lower wages and more expensive goods, and the dropping the Euro would almost certainly leave the French with a financial crisis on their hands.

The French election is one like no other and will be crucial to the EU. Macron’s embrace of it may just allow it to survive (provided elections in Germany and the Netherlands go to plan) but if Le Pen - who has promised a referendum on France’s membership - wins, it would be the final nail in the EU’s coffin.

A Le Pen victory is unlikely given recent polling aggregates, but her supporters won’t disappear. The next President needs to be aware of that or else they risk an even greater anti-establishment insurgency next election. For the first time, the next President may well be from a party other than the Republicans or Socialists. This has clearly not been a traditional election in France.