A sharp political divide shaped France's recent national and regional elections, but in both cases, moderate candidates made significant gains. Lake Effect essayist Art Cyr has some Bastille Day thoughts about the French Republic.
In parliamentary elections held June 18, French voters continued the moderate trend which was apparent in the presidential election last month. In that earlier election, Emmanuel Macron was elected chief executive of the nation by a substantial margin. He decisively defeated radical nationalist Marine Le Pen.
An important factor has been widespread anxiety regarding Le Pen and her party, fueled in part by the long controversial political career of her outspoken father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Before the actual voting, there was some indication she might win the presidency.
Macron’s moderate movement, La République en Marche! (LRM or LREM) has won a majority of seats. This gives the new president a solid political foundation. In total, the magnetic young leader of France is well positioned to exercise strong leadership within Europe – and well beyond. That is important, and basically positive not only for France but also the nation’s allies, including Britain and the United States.
Perhaps reflecting the anxiety resulting from continuing murderous terrorist attacks, a great deal of media commentary about the French government and leadership has been downbeat and downright skeptical. Some early polls indicated the LRM might secure a much more substantial majority. Voter turnout was low, giving some commentators an opening to emphasize apathy and indifference.
That skepticism masks the reality that the French have voted strongly for moderation, which is the course most likely to result in effective and workable policies. Historically, France suffered after World War II from chronically unstable governments and weak institutions. The rise of Jean-Marie and now Marine Le Pen has raised the specter of that past.
The pragmatic realism of today’s French voters and leaders includes the European Union. France was one of the six founding members of the original European Economic Community, established in 1957. However, France’s President Charles de Gaulle was fundamentally opposed to a centralized organization.
More recently, voters in France in 2005 rejected a highly ambitious plan to have a “constitution” for the European Union (EU). Civil servants in Brussels, removed from practical politics and voters, erroneously calculated that they could greatly increase and centralize power.
Diplomats are relatively removed from public opinion. Over time, their constant round of negotiations and receptions can generate a false sense of progress. Cold water from French voters ended such illusions concerning the proposed European Constitution. The great length and complexity of the document in hindsight implies that extensive prose was being used to avoid hard political realities.
Economic integration, plus a rapidly expanding body of European law, has encouraged the belief that commercial coordination is the same as political unification. Yet that is a serious miscalculation. As in other parts of the world, Europeans have been unwilling to surrender control over the basic element of sovereignty, military forces.
President Macron became a top civil servant earlier in his career, and has made the unusual leap from that world to the very different one of elected politics – with tremendous success. He was also an effective Rothschild investment banker.
He emphasizes pro-business market-oriented economic reforms, a major departure. France became a highly centralized state early, with emphasis on bureaucracy and control. Not even the bloody French Revolution in the 18th century changed this tradition.
Over the near term, the new moderate reformist government of France can provide economic and political realism. Britain is being encouraged to reconsider the hard line regarding the EU. Relations with Germany remain key.