The French Elections and the Macron phenomenon…

‘Brenda from Bristol’ probably summed up the mood to this year’s general election when stopped in the street by a TV reporter.

‘Oh no, not another one!’ [i]

In Northern Ireland we are used to annual or even bi-annual elections but even our electoral activity pales in comparison to the poor people of France who have been called to the polls four times in three months.

The French system despite its demands on the electorate has its merits. For a start, votes take place on a Sunday, which means most people don’t have to arrange their day around voting. Secondly, the first round of voting in the presidential election narrows the field down to two candidates giving the French public a straight forward choice between Marine le Pen Emmanuel Macron. Tactical voting came into play as supporters of the eliminated candidates, decided which of the two they despised the least and that was Macron, who emerged from relative obscurity to become l’homme du destin, the most powerful man in Europe who has bucked the recent trend of the Right winning major elections in the West. He dismissed his far-Right opponent by winning an impressive 66.1% of the vote.[ii]

Young, handsome and dynamic, Macron has joined Justin Trudeau, another Francophone, to be the heartthrob of liberal women (and some men I suppose) everywhere. He became an instant hero by refusing to let President Trump haul him around when they shook hands. According to some sources, his vice like grip hurt not only the US president’s hand, but his ego, so much so he subsequently pulled the US out of the Paris climate accords. Perhaps, perhaps not, but Macron has other pressing problems. France has suffered from long-term structural unemployment for decades, particularly among the young. The country’s employment laws make it difficult for bosses to sack the idle and incompetent and some unions, notably the air traffic controllers strike as regularly as Big Ben, usually at Easter and the height of the tourist season. The high cost of employing people has forced businesses to improve productivity but left many businesses understaffed – roaming around deserted stores looking for a member of staff is a common experience in France.

At the top of Macron’s list comes terrorism. Paris and Nice stand out from the ever-growing crowd of terrorist massacres for their body counts and sheer savagery. In response, the streets of Paris bear an odd similarity to 1970s Belfast with near omnipresent military patrols. The French police are getting better at catching and killing Jihadis but a young, disaffected Muslim population indicates no imminent shortage of ‘kamikazes’ as suicide bombers are called in France.

Macron’s En March party, loosely translated as ‘Forwards’ has been in existence for barely a year but won a majority in June’s parliamentary elections, capturing 308 seats out of 577. He was helped once again by France’s electoral system that weeds out the no-hopers in the first round, introducing a measure of tactical voting to the second.  In all, 350 seats went to the Centre of which En Marche is a part, 136 to French conservatives and only 45 to the fragmented socialist parties. The big loser was Le Pen’s Front Nationale, which acquired a mere 8 seats, 2 less than the Communists who managed 10.[iii]

The threat from the far right has been seen off – for now, but Monsieur Macron, has much to do. With Brexit negotiations now underway he will affect the lives of people in this part of the world more than any French leader since Napoleon. While the main Brexit negotiations will ostensibly take place with Brussels, the EU has been driven by its inception by the Franco-German axis and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Historically the Germans, lumbered by their historical baggage, have tended to make the balls while the French fire them. Germany is much more assertive these days but the role of Paris in the final Brexit result cannot be understated.

Monsieur Macron might be the new kid on the block but he will affect all our futures.

[i] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/brenda-bristol-summed-up-mood-10590516

[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2017/may/07/french-presidential-election-results-latest

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_legislative_election,_2017#Electoral_system

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  • La France Insoumise are not the Communist Party. Fair enough, they are hard left, but they do not advocate communism. The Communist Party do.

  • Sam Thompson

    According to the table I used LA France Insoumise got 17 seats and the Communists 10. I did not confuse the two. If the table is wrong please let me know,. Thanks for reading the article and your comment.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_legislative_election,_2017#French_Communist_Party_.28PCF.29

  • Sorry, you’re absolutely right there.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It’ll be interesting to see how the EU evolves after the UK, the slightly excluded yet slightly disinterested player, has left. Germany’s and France’s arms will obviously be strengthened now that they no longer have to be distracted by the thran Anglo Saxon.
    Macron’s central planks of cleaner politics (hampered by the French tendency of anonymously throwing allegations at Ministers in the hope that something sticks) and social justice (less exclusion, less alienation, reducing the Paris/Province divide, a more flexible and accommodating France) might produce the desired results.
    I certainly think he’s got the drive, the energy and the principle not to be diverted off course and he benefits from being seen as an insider as well. That’s why a new political party had to be created buoyed up its promise of being a new movement. And France’s historic and stubborn stagnation needs a response that’s new, radical, imaginative and revolutionary in a 21st Century sense. He won’t be tearing up the constitution and creating a 6th Republic. instead he will use his extensive presidential powers to restructure France from within. It’ll be interesting to see how and it’ll be interesting to see if France goes with him.

  • Skibo

    Voting on a Sunday would be a great idea. Why didn’t we think of that years ago? Could solve the Irish question with one election.

  • Marcus Orr

    The first signs from Macron have not been good – a law to legalise cannabis (the Nice killer, the Charlie Hebdo murderers, some of the Bataclan killers, and several other terrorist attacks in France all being committed by heavy smokers of dope), insisting that the “Etat d’urgence” state emergency measures will be prolonged (i.e. the French police can break in wherever they want at 3 in the morning and drag a guy to interrogation without any mandate or search warrant from a judge), insistence on 50-50 parity between men and women in his govt. (who cares whether the minister has this or that sexual organ, surely their competence and experience for the job are more important) renaming his party “La Republique en marche” in a not very well hidden attempt at squashing what remains of the French right by stealing their name.
    Certainly he’s something new. But by putting himself firmly in the pro-EU camp and becoming Merkel’s new Governor for the region “France” in the EU Superstate, he will find out soon enough that things ain’t going to get better. The Euro currency and the criteria and policy behind it are a large part of the reason for the 10% unemployment and 25% youth unemployment in France. He has to get the fact that the EU and monetary union is the main problem for his country.

  • Marcus Orr

    Just to point out that Le Pen’s Front National were hardly the big losers of this election. They won 8 seats, last time in 2012 they won just 2. They face an even tougher challenge than UKIP do under first past the post in Westminster (UKIP getting just 1 seat despite having 15% of the vote in 2015), because the French election to the national assembly is even harder than first past the post, they select the 2 candidates with the most votes, and then in a run-off the week later everyone votes again to select one of these two last candidates. With their more than unsavoury history, the Front National then inevitably loses nearly all the run-offs because the voters right, left and centre vote anti-FN the 2nd time around. So it is inevitable that they will suffer through this system, but that doesn’t mean that they are suddenly falling apart, far from it.
    For the communists it is different, because they are considered as “Republicain” by the whole of the left in France and so in a run-off no ordinary socialist has any scruples about voting for them – so of course with a tiny % of 1st preference votes the communists in France can acquire more seats than the much bigger Front National – it’s just logical.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Ah come on. Smoking dope causes terrorism???

  • Marcus Orr

    I didn’t say that it does. But the correlation between heavy usage of dope and mental illness has been noted since a long time.

  • William Saunderson

    “The country’s employment laws make it difficult for bosses to sack the idle and incompetent”

    Don’t you mean:

    ‘The country’s employment laws make it difficult for bosses to sack the industrious and the competent on flimsy premises’?

  • Zorin001

    So does alcohol Marcus but I don’t see a rush to criminalise people drinking themselves to oblivion.

  • Marcus Orr

    We already have 2 legal poisons in society (alcohol and tobacco being legal for hundreds of years, and the prohibition in the USA 100 years ago demonstrating that you can’t make something which has always been legal, illegal) we sadly can’t do anything about them.
    But why, if we know already how destructive our 2 legal poisons are, would we be clamouring to introduce a 3rd (cannabis) ?
    Also, I’m sure you know about the difference in the half-life of alcohol and cannabis (alcohol being quickly reduced but cannabis lingering much longer in the body with its effects). The day after its effects are still lingering…

  • Zorin001

    “But why, if we know already how destructive our 2 legal poisons are, would we be clamouring to introduce a 3rd (cannabis) ?”

    I can give you one reason, as was the same with prohibition the massive amount of money it makes for criminal gangs. Legalising it and taking it out of their hands would massively undercut any number of criminal operations.

    “Also, I’m sure you know about the difference in the half-life of alcohol and cannabis (alcohol being quickly reduced but cannabis lingering much longer in the body with its effects). The day after its effects are still lingering…”

    True but the shorter term impacts of alcohol ie: massive intoxication is potentially much more dangerous with regards to personal safety and injury. I’m sure we all know of someone who after too much drink has seriously injured themselves or others.

    I don’t take the stuff myself but I find it mind-boggling that some people who would think nothing of getting hammered every weekend can suddenly take the moral high ground in respect of drugs. Not yourself though as you made clear above you dislike them all.

    On the point re: terrorism I think the Dope smoking is more likely a symptom rather than a cause. The backgrounds of the young men who turn to jihad-ism (poor, with a history of violent offences, a marked tendency for domestic violence and some with prison time) seems much more relevant

  • Marcus Orr

    “Legalising it and taking it out of their hands would massively undercut any number of criminal operations.”

    I don’t believe this argument at all. Alcohol & tobacco are legal, but customs use huge resources every year trying to stop the criminal gangs smuggling cigarettes and booze. The reason there is so much criminality around the 2 legal poisons is because they are so heavily taxed, as cannabis would certainly be as well if it were decriminalised. I believe this is already the case in Colorado, where illegal sellers of marijuana are rampant despite the drug being legal.
    I agree with you that no-one who gets hammered on alcohol every weekend can moralise on drugs. But we are talking about whether laws against cannabis make sense or not, I rather think they do. Sadly they have not been enforced in this country, or have been softened a lot, over the last 40 years.
    Concerning whether smoking dope is a symptom rather than one of the root causes of these horrible attacks, we will never know unless we open our eyes and do some more study and analysis on the issue. All we know today is that invariably, every time there is a terrorist attack, whether of “Islamic” tendence or not, the background of the killer shows heavy drug use (usually cannabis or steroids). Why do we as a society lack curiosity on this issue I wonder ?
    In the 1840’s when the correlation between unclean water supply and typhus/cholera was noticed, the authorities had no idea if it was the cause or not (it was), but they did at least investigate. We don’t even want to know if dope could be an issue or not. With our heads full of cannabis being a “soft drug” coming from our media the last 30 years, no wonder.