First of May in France: electoral turmoil


来源:凤凰国际智库

Cristina Font Haro  The author is a foreign policy analyst of Phoenix Global Affairs Unit

Clashes at a demonstration on 1st May in Paris

The celebration of May 1 in France has been agitated by the presidential elections scheduled for May 7. On one hand, French trade unions celebrated on May 1st divided on how to cope with the rise of Le Pen, since while the "reformists" explicitly called for Macron, the more leftists do not want to be associated with a socio-liberal program that has been criticized. On the other hand, the forces of the order faced groups of hooded people during the marches programmed for the day of the workers.

The General Confederation of Labour and Labour Force, even though expressing their rejection of Le Pen, have refused to solicit support for Macron, along with the lines of the radical left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Their demonstration paraded between the Plaza of the Republic and the Plaza of the Nation in Paris. Mélenchon participated in the march as well. In totally, they gathered several tens of thousands of people across the country, whereas the French Confederation of Workers (CFDT, the country's first trade union) and the National Union of Autonomous Trade Union organized an event in the Plaza of Stalingrad, which was attended by several hundred people.  

Before the parades started in the Plaza of the Republic, activists from the Avaaz organization ( a global civil organization founded in January 2007) covered their faces with masks combining characters from the face of Marine Le Pen and her father, the founder of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Their double aim was to show the direct link between both politicians, despite the fact that the extreme right-wing candidate has attempted to distance herself from her father, on the other hand, they seek Macron's vote as well.  Avaaz campaign manager, Aloys Ligault, insisted that "Marine Le Pen shares more than a surname with her father. Marine Le Pen conceals behind her smile the poison of an ideology of hate. For the Le Pen politicians, it is a family business to spread the division among the citizens. Hence, they only way to stop them is to vote on Sunday for Macron".

Moreover, François Baroin, the man who is expected to lead France's Republican Party during the parliamentary elections campaign (June 11th and 18th) said that he was ready to be a prime minister of cohabitation with presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. Also, Socialist Party member Segolene Royal called on former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to ask his voters to support Macron in the May 7 runoff vote.

French society divided by political demands

The events of the past Monday only proved what it is commonly known, the results of the first electoral round on April 23, 2017, increased the instability in the already convulsed society, because they are in the midst of political change. After years of economic decline and shaken by a spate of terrorist attacks at home and elsewhere in Europe, many French voters are disenchanted with traditional political parties, dubious of the country's economic prospects, and uncertain of its role in Europe and the world.

Thereby, this election is important because it means a change in their political pillars, though where does this change come from? The French system was established after the outcome of the Second World War by President Charles de Gaulle. Its national strategy was built on three columns. The first was to develop a strong alliance with Germany, securing peace on the Continent. In fact, due to France and Germany have been two of the main protagonists in opposites blocks of the First and the Second World War in the European scenario, it was the maximum imperative so that the war did not strike Europe again. At that time, Germany was occupied and divided by the winner partners of the war (the United States, the USSR, United Kingdom and France), the United Kingdom was exhausted by its war efforts and the United States were injecting money to Europe through the Marshall Plan seeking its war reconstruction and adhesion to the capitalist bloc.  In this context, the European community was born.

France's second priority was to protect the independence of its foreign policy.  As the political realities of the Cold War congealed, President Charles de Gaulle wanted to secure the most leeway possible for Paris. Following the premise, France sought to forge its own relationship with Russia, build its own nuclear arsenal, and protect its interests in the Arab world and its former colonies.

Finally, France aimed to build a strong republic with a solid central power. For almost a century, fragile coalitions, weak executive power, and short-lived governments characterized the French parliamentary system. In 1958, as decolonization in Africa and Asia strained the French political system, de Gaulle pushed for reform, introducing a semi-presidential system in which strong presidents were elected for seven -year terms (the term was eventually reduced to the actual five years).  The resulting structure featured a two-round voting system whose main goals were to ensure that the president had robust democratic legitimacy and to prevent fringe political parties from attaining power.

Both political structure and main pillars shaped the French political arena till nowadays. However, due to different economic and politic reasons, it seems that it has come to an end. For over the past two decades, the French economy has been weakening. Average gross domestic product growth fell from 2.2 percent for the 1995-2004 period to just 0.7 percent for the 2005-2014 period, and unemployment has been above the EU average most years in the past decade. Even though the French bureaucratic machine still provides a quarter of all jobs, it could not stop the increase of unemployment. Besides that, their employment cost also increased as well as the taxes and public debt levels.

On the international context, France relation with Germany changed its bases too. Nowadays, instead of Paris being worried about the internal German division, France is worried about its own role in the EU and the German counterpart. Even if both countries are the core of the institution, without them it could easily fall into pieces; Germany is above France in political power, as the Eurozone crisis has made clear. On the other hand, their dissatisfaction with the functioning of the institution has let two different visions of how to solve the problem.

The malfunction of the labor market and the anguish of its international role led a growing number of people not to be satisfied with their situation and lose their faith in the republic's leader. In fact, French political cycles are becoming shorter. Socialist President François Mitterrand enjoyed two terms in office from 1981 to 1995, as did his conservative successor, Jacques Chirac, from 1995-2007. By contrast, center-right leader Nicolas Sarkozy served only one term from 2007 to 2012 as well as his counterpart center-left President, François Hollande. On the other hand, citizens both right-wing and left-wing ideologies believe that the globalization is the cause of the French detriment. That is how all these elements of dissatisfaction mixed up with the French electoral system gave, as a result, the appearance of outsiders such as Macron or Le Pen in this presidential election.

As well as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia, France is a democracy with majority system, which favors the hegemony of two main parties in parliament and the control of the government by a single party; the Socialist Party and the Republican Party. The defenders of this system state that it helps to the governability of the State to the detriment of pluralism. On the other hand, the retractors emphasize that it is governed according to the will of the majority of the representatives and not of the electors, reason why it makes them the government of a minority. In the last instance, this could cause that the political options do not correspond in its totality with the social demands, which are either neglected or ignored.

Moreover, this majority system induces a strategic vote of the voters as well as it can generate apathy from social strata that do not find a suitable party to offer their support. Indeed, the double-round electoral system can manifest the second or subsequent preferences of voters. While in the first round, they can express freely their first political preference, in the runoff, voters transfer their vote to another party, because in this new context their preferences already changed. Knowing what has happened in the first round and having knowledge of collective behavior, it is probable that in the runoff the voter makes a strategic vote. In case their first option party has not passed to the second round, then most probably their vote will benefit the less bad option. In other words, voters try to have their ideological opponent not elected. That is why, on Monday some of the French labor unions were seeking the vote for Macron after Jean-Luc Melechon did not pass the first round.

After May 7, how could it look like the future of France?

Centrist Emmanuel Macron and populist Marine Le Pen have qualified for the runoff vote on May 7. They defeated the other two possible candidates, the conservative François Fillon and left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon in one of the most implausible presidential elections in modern French history. In case they become elected, both Macron and Le Pen already have in mind how the French future would look like. While Le Pen has promised a policy of “intelligent protectionism”, taxing certain foreign imports to shield domestic industries from competition, to close France’s borders, reduce immigration, return to the franc (French currency before the establishment of the common European currency) and hold a referendum on France’s membership in the EU. On the contrary, Macron’s promises move in the opposite direction. He promised to cut public spending by some 60 billion euros and invest around 50 billion euros in policies to modernize the French economy as well as to reform France’s labor legislation and further deregulate certain sectors of the French economy.

Nevertheless, we should not forget that France has a semi-presidential system, that is the executive power is shared by the President and the First Minister, who will be elected by the parliament (National Assembly) on June 11 and 18 of this year. Hence, the President will need the support from the National Assembly to make good on electoral promises, especially for those that seek the end of their membership in the EU. In fact, for holding such a referendum, the French constitution have to be reformed beforehand. Thereby, …

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