The French presidential election has followed the disturbing pattern of growing nationalism and far-right extremism that both Europe and America have experienced within the past year.
Currently, far-right extremist Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron have advanced to the second (and final) round of voting. The French election process has two tiers; More than 10 candidates participated in the first, although only five were considered true contenders. Significantly, it was the first time in French history that neither candidate of the two major parties — François Fillon of the center-right Republican party and Benoît Hamon of the left-wing Socialist Party — advanced to the second round.
While Macron and Le Pen have cultivated images as outsiders, both have been heavily involved in politics. Le Pen, a former lawyer, has been the leader of her party, the populist, nationalist and far-right Front National, since 2011, stepping down only last week in order to focus on her campaign for the presidency. Macron, a former investment banker, was first deputy secretary-general and later France’s Minister of the Economy under current president François Hollande.
Due to his involvement in the government and his centrist position, Macron has the specter of the establishment hanging behind him. While the parallels are far from perfect, in a general sense, Macron versus Le Pen echoes Clinton versus Trump. The image of an outsider has worked in Le Pen’s favor, and her openly Islamophobic, xenophobic and Euroskeptical attitudes have attracted a significant number of followers.
Macron’s platform, on the other hand, is fairly status quo, with nothing particularly innovative. He’s strongly pro-EU, favors reforming several business regulations to spur economic growth and draws ideas from both sides of the political spectrum. He ran independently, forming his own “movement” called En Marche!.
Macron received 24.01 percent of the votes in the first round to Le Pen’s 21.3 percent and is expected to win with a roughly 60/30 split in the final vote on May 7. Yet, uncertainty still lurks in the French election. As much as Macron may lack a vision for France, Le Pen’s vision cannot be the one which triumphs. She is strongly protectionist, anti-globalization and anti-EU.
She has gone as far as to embrace bringing back a French franc and disposing the Euro. She says that if elected, she will hold a referendum similar to Brexit to allow the French the opportunity to leave the EU.
France is a major player in the European political and economic spheres, and its removal from the EU would be a crippling loss to the organization as well as incredibly detrimental to France’s own well-being. The EU and Europe generally would face a drastically different future if a “Frexit” took place. Germany would remain the only major player in the EU, throwing off the complex economic and political balance of Europe.
Moreover, Le Pen is a fascist. She has praised colonialism, denied France’s involvement in the Holocaust, is unequivocally anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee, and in reference to this last group, has explicitly stated that they should be “sent home.” (She even implied that she, as president, will do so.)
Her own party, Front National, has an overt and well-known anti-Semitic past, from which Le Pen has been attempting to distance herself. She is also, unsurprisingly, anti-gay and has “traditionalist” views of gender roles. Her vision of France’s future is one in which French identity is comprised of being French first, which to Le Pen and Front National, means white, Christian, and non-immigrant.
Both Republican Fillon and Socialist Hamon have urged voters to choose Macron, with the former saying there is no choice but to vote against the extreme right. Le Monde, a major center-right French newspaper, published an editorial in strong opposition to Le Pen after the first round results came out, stating that “the National Front party is incompatible with our values, our history and our identity.”
While such a statement exploits ambiguity, there is no equivocation in the paper’s opposition to Le Pen. Her candidacy is the next threat of authoritarianism, of fascism, of anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian ideals. Hopefully, on May 7, the French will not fall into the dangers of a Front National administration and a Marine Le Pen presidency.
Correction: The article originally suggested that France's election was on May 8. The election was on May 7.