The French elections are perhaps reminders of just how much Europe, indeed the world has changed. Are we actually seeing the demise of the old style left-right politics and the rise of a new politics based on the dichotomy between national identity versus globalization?
Dr. Nick Parsons, Reader in French, at the University of Cardiff and Dr. Paul Smith, Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at the University of Nottingham join the program.
REUTERS / Eric Feferberg/Pool
Dr. Parsons describes the elections as really being about French national identity, however, he stresses that the main argument is the economy, the high rate of unemployment, and the decline of the industry. He mentions that the idea of the ‘French Model’ – high levels of social services, a powerful State which appears to be under threat from the globalized financial capital in the EU, is a major issue. Le Pen is trying to shift this, continues, onto the argument against foreigners because of terrorism, and the security angle, however, Macron is trying to say that the economy can be fixed by an open economy. Dr. Smith points out that it is actually Macron who is suggesting reforms to the economy that will change the situation, unlike Le Pen who is using old slogans against migrants to galvanize support. Another major issue is that of France’s colonial past, and her unique history and both candidates are trying to use that to their own advantage, Dr. Smith says.
REUTERS / Pascal Rossignol/File Photo
Dr Smith mentions that cultural aspects of current political arguments are important, not least because France has been undergoing a sort of identity crisis for the last 30 or 40 years since the demise of her empire, when she had a large scale cultural output that it exported to the world, with the notion that it had some kind of civilizing mission. But France has been in decline economically and culturally since, and this is something that the French are trying to come to terms with, especially with the rise of Anglo-Saxon culture. In this context, Dr. Parsons points out that France fears globalization and is the most anti-globalisation country in Europe, primarily for economic reasons, although le Pen is feeding on those fears to turn them into cultural issues.
The issue of sovereignty is discussed in terms of economics. Dr. Parson says that in the past France would have simply stopped certain jobs leaving France, but the problem is overstated. Over the past few decades, France has lost 2 million jobs but only 15% of these are due to globalization. Le Pen, however, is saying that the jobs have been lost because of globalization. Dr. Smith sees that the role of the State in France has always played a much larger role than in many other European countries. There are people right across the political spectrum in France, Dr. Smith says, who believe that the ability of the government to step in and do things is something that should be reinstated.
REUTERS / Robert Pratta
The second part of the program is taken up by a discussion of how exactly how France is going to be governed under the new President. The point is made by both speakers that France’s politics depend on parliament not only the President. The main event now for France, the ‘third round’ as Dr. Smith calls it, will be the general election in June. There is a possibility that there will be a German-style grand coalition appearing between center left and center right. Dr. Smith also says that Macron has emerged from the failure of Hollande and does not see Hollande’s central politics lasting very long. “I see this as a presidency; presidencies shape up into very different beasts half-way in…” Dr. Parsons agrees and adds that if you look at the first round voting, there was an identifiable left and right, that is not so clear now. He also says that Macron (if he wins) may not be able to hold the center left, as the left will be highly opposed to a liberalizing agenda. Both speakers see a return to more traditional left-right politics eventually, but the identity vs. globalization argument is strong at the moment.
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