Neoliberalism vs. nationalism in France

The French election on Sunday narrowed the field to two candidates—Emmanuel Macron, a neoliberal defender of globalization, and Marine Le Pen, a blood-and-soil nationalist, in the run-off election May 7.

Macron is an Obama-like outsider, who offers a vaguely-defined hope and change and, in fact, was endorsed by Barack Obama, but who actually represents France’s financial establishment.

Le Pen is usually described as the “far right” candidate.  She promises to protect France from what she calls the twin threats of globalization and Islam.

But she also is in favor of locking in France’s 35-hour work week, lowering the retirement age to 60, bolstering public services and reducing income taxes on low-income workers

Macron is in favor of flexibility on the 35-hour work week, industry deregulation, reduction of government spending and cutting corporate taxes.  So which is the right-winger?

He favors CETA—the Canadian-European Free Trade Agreement—which, like NAFTA and the defunct proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, would restrict business regulation in the name of protecting free trade.  So who is the left-winger here?

Le Pen would replace the Euro with a “nouveau franc,” reestablish border controls and repeal certain European Union laws.  If the EU refused to cooperate, she would call for a referendum on whether France should secede.  If the French voted to stay in the EU, she would resign.

Macron wants to strengthen the Euro and France’s ties with the EU.   He generally favors current French policy on immigration.  Le Pen would restrict immigration to 10,000 persons a year and kick out all unauthorized immigrants, as well as all Muslims on terrorist watch lists.

I don’t claim to know much about French politics.  But, looking at France from afar, it seems to me that Macron’s appeal, like Obama’s, is that he is a fresh face without any ties to the old political establishment.  Never mind that he was finance minister in the current government and once worked for a Rothschild bank.

Hat tip to peteybee.

The chart above indicates Macron will get most of the votes of supporters of the losing candidates.  Polls indicate a possible landslide victory of 60 percent to 40 percent.

The question is whether Le Pen’s National Front will emerge as France’s main opposition party.  This would have been certain if she had received a plurality of the votes.   I still think it’s likely.

Both Macron and Le Pen promise to rebuild French industry.  I wonder how far either of them could get without coming up against anti-competition provisions in international treaties and EU regulations.   Almost anything a government could do to help a domestic industry could be considered a barrier to fair competition by a foreign company.

I don’t think any democratic economic reform can work without an assertion of national sovereignty, because existing international economic institutions represent the interests of global corporations and banks.

For that reason, I think Macron is likely to fail.  But I also think that Le Pen’s nationalism is a false hope.


The Main Issue in the French Elections: National Sovereignty by Diana Johnstone for Counterpunch (written before the election).

Head to head: How Le Pen and Macron compare by James Masters and Euan McKirdy for CNN.

Le Pen Will Get Her Chance by Scott McConnell for The American Conservative.

Emmanuel Macron’s French election victory may change less than most expect by Stephen Bush for New Statesman.

The French, Coming Apart by Christopher Caldwell for City Journal.  About France’s deeper economic problems.

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