News & Politics

Why One Potential Outcome in France's Presidential Election Should Scare the Wits Out of You

French presidential election candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains party Francois Fillon, right, and French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National party Marine Le Pen take part in a television debate at French national television France 2, in Saint Cloud, outside Paris, Thursday, April 20, 2017. The 11 men and women hoping to be France's next president are to appear on national television in a last appeal to voters in a nail-biting election campaign. (Martin Bureau/Pool Photo via AP)

French voters will finally be able to vote for a new president today. They’ve suffered for years under the less than inspiring leadership of socialist Francois Hollande, but today they take the first step to replacing him with someone else — someone better.

Or not, of course. After all, although two candidates — Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen — are considered to be “conservative,” they are not exactly the favorites to win the election. In Fillon’s case, even proceeding to the second round may prove impossible.

The first round of France’s presidential election only serves to separate the top two from all other contenders. According to the most recent polls, this means that former socialist turned leftist liberal Emmanuel Macron and Front National leader Marine Le Pen will have to fight it out between themselves in the second round.

Graph via FT.

Note the difference, however, between Macron and Le Pen on the one hand, and Francois Fillon (of the Republicans) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (far-left party) on the other. Four candidates are within five percentage points of each other. The difference between Le Pen, Fillon and Mélenchon is even smaller: a mere three percentage points. This means that they are within the margin of error. Although Macron is considered to be the favorite to win, last-minute deciders hold his fate in their hands. If the terror attack on a police officer in France a few days ago has an effect, it could very well catapult Le Pen and Fillon to the front.

In other words, even the hands-down favorite, Macron, can’t be sure he’ll compete in the second round.

That is all terribly exciting, of course, but there’s also bad news: apart from Francois Fillon, none of the other candidates are actual conservatives. Yes, Le Pen is conservative on some issues — immigration, integration, social issues, and the EU — but she’s also a fervent supporter of the large French welfare state, is an economic isolationist, and seems to enjoy nationalizing companies and even entire industries. The main thing she has going for her is that she’s one of the few French politicians willing to talk about the danger radical Islam poses to France and the fact that too few Islamic immigrants have assimilated. When we look at her economic policies, however, she’s barely distinguishable from crypto-communist Mélenchon.

When I say “crypto-communist,” I do actually mean crypto-communist. Mélenchon is France’s version of Bernie Sanders: an elderly socialist who believes that capitalism is the root of all evil. One of his policy proposals is a 100 percent tax on “the rich.” By that, he means every Frenchman making more than 400,000 euros per year.

That’s bad, but it gets even worse. The old fool also supports a retirement age of only 60 years, a 32-hour work week, a protectionist economic policy, a higher minimum wage, and six weeks of paid vacation leave for all employees.

Feel free to call him the French Fidel Castro.

Although that’s definite proof that the man is insane, young French voters are flocking to him. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least, then, if he stages a last-minute surge, blasting him into the top two.

At the same time, Marine Le Pen is one of France’s few politicians with a large and loyal base. She’s almost certain to make it into the top two no matter what. If Mélenchon surges, it’ll be to the detriment of Macron, meaning that the second round could very well end up a race between crypto-communist Mélenchon and nationalist-populist Le Pen. Although Le Pen is certainly less bad than Mélenchon, that isn’t something to brag about it. After all, her economic policies are nearly as horrendous as Mélenchon’s (which is why Belgian newspaper Knack.be even calls Le Pen Mélenchon’s “sister”). Like her “brother,” Le Pen dreams of nationalizing entire companies and taxing “the rich” until they’re dead broke. The only thing that distinguishes her from Mélenchon is that she is “far-right” when it comes to immigration and integration. That’s great — and it’s precisely why she plays such a vital role in France’s political system — but it doesn’t automatically make her “presidential material.”

The elites — who hate Le Pen — have a favorite: Emmanuel Macron. This former socialist has been converted to “left liberalism,” meaning that he’s a progressive who loves big business. He has no coherent philosophy; he jumps from left to right and from right to left depending on the issue. The only thing we can be sure about if he wins is that he’ll lack the courage to make difficult decisions. France’s economy has to be reformed. Macron won’t do it. France’s welfare state has to be cut. Macron won’t do it. France’s immigration system has to be transformed and immigrants who refuse to embrace French values have to be told in no uncertain terms that it’s best if they leave the country. Macron won’t do it.

The best you can hope for with Macron is that he’ll not make matters worse, which isn’t saying much considering the fact that the French economy is all but destroyed. Six million French are unemployed (which is one million more than five years ago, when Hollande won the election), the country constantly imports more than it exports meaning that it has a trade deficit, the government routinely spends more than it receives (the budget deficit hovers around 3 percent), and the country’s economic “growth” is virtually non-existent (1,1 percent).

Three of the top four candidates aren’t even willing to address these issues.

Who is? Only one man, Francois Fillon. Fillon is the leader of the center-right Les Republicains, the party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy. He’s the only candidate who wants to seriously reduce the size of government. For instance, he plans on cutting 500,000 governmental jobs. He also wants to get rid of the 35-hour work week, plans to figuratively castrate the all-powerful French unions, and favors a strict immigration policy. If that sounds too good to be true, I’m afraid it is: although few doubt that Fillon is serious about these ideas, he’s also an old-school French politician, meaning that he has used (read: abused) his position to enrich himself and his family, for instance by officially hiring his wife as a well-paid staffer, a position for which she had to do… nothing at all. That news became public knowledge during this year’s presidential campaign, thereby significantly reducing Fillon’s chances of winning.

But there’s hope. As mentioned above, the polls are extremely close. Yes, it could end up in a run-off between Le Pen and Macron, or even between Le Pen and Mélenchon, but Le Pen-Fillon and Macron-Fillon are still possible scenarios as well. Ironically, the recent terror attack in Paris may actually catapult both “right-wing” politicians to the head of the pack.

The only thing we can be sure of is that no matter who ends up taking on Le Pen in the second round, that person will almost certainly win the second round. The other parties differ with each other on a wide range of issues, but they all agree that the nationalist Front National has to be stopped at all costs. That’s exactly why it’s so important for Fillon to surge; if he disappoints, it’ll either be the crypto-communist Mélenchon or the weak Macron who’ll end up becoming France’s next president.

If that doesn’t scare the wits out of you, I don’t know what will.