Europe’s Changing Landscape
Dan Steinbock, Paris
In France, President Hollande’s utter failure to foster broad consensus for structural reforms has paved the way for a contested election. While public debate focuses on Emmanuel Macron as the savior of France, the real story is that Marine Le Pen’s agenda has shifted the French political landscape.
Before TV debates, the French presidential election featured 3-4 viable candidates, which together accounted for 85-90 percent of the total vote. Until recently, the leader of the Front National, Marine Le Pen, and the centrist Emmanuel Macron, have garnered about 25 percent in the polls, followed by the center-right François Fillon (20%), and the socialist Benoît Hamon (15%).
After merciless campaigns, scandals and mud-slinging, Macron has a very slight lead among first-round voters (27%), ahead of Marine Le Pen (26%) and Fillon (17%), while socialist Hamon has lost ground for far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon (12% each). French voters go the polls on April 23 and May 7 in the two-round election. Since no candidate can garner absolute majority in the first round, it is the second round that really matters. And in that race, Macron (64%) seems to have overwhelming lead against Le Pen (36%).
Even if Le Pen would win the first round, she would face great odds in the second. Yet, in one sense, she has already won. In France, the political future belongs to her agenda (see Box: Elysee Palace’s New Agenda).
Macron’s stance – and funders
Emmanuel Macron’s (40) current tie with or slight lead against Le Pen in polls is not based on his perceived success. His stint in Hollande’s government as a business-friendly economy minister alienated most socialists while failing to win over most conservatives, not to speak of the French majority. However, as Fillon has been swept by an embezzlement debacle and socialists have failed to put up a fight, Macron is pretty much all that’s left from the old French center-right elite.
Politically, Macron is a proponent of a “third way.” To him, political right and political left have less importance in the contemporary world. What matters is economic pragmatism. Like his heroes, Tony Blair in the UK and Bill and Hillary Clinton in the US, Macron advocates whatever is expedient, from Rotschild’s neoliberal profits to Hollande’s bureaucratic socialism. Over time, he may share the ultimate fate of Blair and the Clintons: initial excitement followed by disillusion and resentment.
In reality, Macron is a typical product of the elitist École nationale d’administration (ENA). After a stint as an investment banker at Rotschild & Cie Banque, he served in Hollande’s socialist governments, where he advocated business-friendly reforms that undermined Hollande’s support among the government’s socialist constituencies, while fostering Macron’s clout among the socialist opposition and big business.
Married with his 24 year older high school teacher he first met at 15, Macron’s personal life and policy stances remain equally ambiguous. Last November, he declared that he would launch a social liberal bid under the banner of his new movement En Marche!. By design, the name of the party shares Macron’s initials. He likes to portray it as a “social liberal party” to attract the center-right movement, and a “progressive movement” to court Le Pen’s supporters and socialist dissidents.
In reality, En Marche! is a one-man façade. It is registered at the address of Laurent Bigorgne, director of Institut Montaigne director. It was launched with people representing corporate giants, such as the commercial real estate titan Unibail-Rodamco, the international banking behemoth BNP Paribas, and the aerospace mammoth Safran. The Paris-based Institut Montaigne promotes competitiveness and social cohesion. It was founded by millionaire Claude Bébéar, former CEO of AXA, the French multinational insurance, investment and financial colossus, which is funded by the likes of Allianz, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, BNP Paribas, Capgemini, IBM France, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft France, and, of course, Macron’s former employer, Rothschild & Cie Banque.
Macron needed a new platform because he had alienated socialists while failing to gain enough support among conservatives. He is the ultimate Europhile and federalist. He supports integration and structural reforms. In controversies about immigration, secularism, security and terrorism, Macron has favored a balancing act – one that is well-aligned with the ideological position of Institut Montaigne.
His real political success has been the ability to pick up endorsements from both center-right and –left, including from François Bayrou of the Democratic Movement, EU parliament member Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the leftist ecologist candidate François de Rugy, and Socialist parliament member Richard Ferrand.
The rise of Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen (49) is the youngest daughter of the veteran FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, a French far-right politician who supported euro-skepticism, opposed immigration and pushed for law and order, traditional culture and values. As long as he led the FN, it was a marginal far-right, anti-Semitic party with politically incorrect neo-Nazi associations. In the past decade, Marine Le Pen has successfully “mainstreamed” FN away from the margins and extremism. Nevertheless, since major French banks oppose her political platform, she has had difficulties funding her campaign.
In her campaign, Le Pen has supported traditional values, law and order, while opposing immigration and the EU. As her campaign kicked off, she reaffirmed the FN’s anti-immigration, protectionist and anti-EU stance. “The divide is not between the left and right anymore, but between patriots and globalists,” she said. “Financial globalization and Islamist globalization are supporting each other. Those two ideologies want to bring France to its knees.”
Le Pen wants to pull out of the Euro and a return to French franc, a referendum on EU membership within 6 months, and taxes on imports and the employment of foreigners in France. Building on Gaullist legacies, she is a critic of and wants to pull France out of the NATO. She would like to revise French relations with the U.S. and has denounced French bandwagoning toward Washington. Her France would be more independent in the international arena. She would rely on neo-gaullist geopolitics in the new multipolar world.
In the coming weeks, Macron will portray her as a threat to France, and chaos to the European Union, with support by center-right and conservative media in France and US-based international business media. Indirectly, this portrayal will be fostered by Hamon and Melenchon who will paint her in far darker colors since socialists and far-left share blue-collar worker constituencies with the Front National.
Fillon’s fall, socialists’ margins
Born into privilege, François Fillon (63) became nationally known as President Sarkozy’s Prime Minister. He represents conservative Republicans (Sarkozy’s former Union for a Popular Movement, UPM). Years ago – a long time before Macron’s failed attempts – Fillon undertook controversial reforms of the labor code and the retirement system.
Unlike the “Europhile” Macron, Fillon is the ultimate “Anglophile,” a French Thatcherite who would like to balance the budget and abolish the wealth tax. He would raise retirement age to 65 and reduce the public sector by cutting half a million civil-service jobs. He is the man the socialists love to hate and that is too sincere for Macron’s financiers. They need somebody who shares Fillon’s economic policy tenets but could implement them