Why the 2017 French Presidential Elections Matter – Paroma Mehta, India

On May 7th, the French public voted for the next president of the Republic.

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As one of the biggest democracies in the European continent, France is an integral part of the European Union (EU) and its potential exit – as promised by many Presidential candidates to the disillusioned country – could have resulted in the dissolution of the EU itself. As one of the most affluent and influential countries, France holds a position of power and often aids the EU financially. The election on the 7th of May may be remembered as an important historical day for the people of France, who voted to prevent the possible end of the EU. To fully understand the implications and consequences of the election, we will need to look at the multi-faceted conversation surrounding it. To do this, we should begin by looking at the impact of Brexit.

In June of 2016, the British public voted for their exit of the European Union in a historic referendum, commonly known as British Exit or “Brexit”. Like their UK counterparts, a large part of the French public has also lost hope in the EU, with many stating their unhappiness with the EU’s immigration policy. An article on Marketplace.org reports the voters’ outrage. Responses to Brexit and similar anti-EU rhetoric that many European right-wing politicians often engage in, were seen in these interviews. The EU’s immigration policy played a large role in this. Over the past few years, France, and Paris in particular, has experienced some of its worst terror attacks to date, with a majority of them being linked to the jihadist terror organisation, ISIS. Many Europeans perceive these threats to have occurred due to an influx of Muslim immigrants, which have been further exacerbated by EU immigration policies. These policies encourage member states to grant asylum or citizenship to its seekers, especially migrants from areas of conflict like Syria. This idea, along with lack of control over the legal system and economic statutes, did not sit well with British voters, who expressed unhappiness through their votes in the Brexit referendum.

Seeing that immigration is a pertinent issue in Europe, a majority of French presidential candidates revealed their strategies on dealing with it. A majority of them, including Marine Le Pen who is anti-EU, and Jean Luc-Melenchon who had a ultimatum approach to the EU with an idea of “change or quit”, called for an exit from the EU. Instead, they called for a move towards more lucrative practices, mainly involving more French regulations and control over immigration and law. Nevertheless, the two final candidates for presidency, Ms Le Pen and Mr Emmanuel Macron had opposing views on the matter.

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2017 French Presidential Elections: Marine Le Pen VS Emmanuel Macron

National Front candidate, Ms Le Pen, included negotiations with Brussels regarding France’s position in the EU in her plans. She also claimed that as President, she would hold a “Frexit”, or French Exit, if renegotiations with the EU failed. Moreover, she had goals to raise the output of the euro and revive the French franc.

In comparison, En Marche candidate, Mr Macron, had plans other plans for France’s economy – he aimed to redesign the Eurozone’s workings by introducing a common fiscal policy, a joint finance minister, a eurozone debt instrument, and completion of the banking union.

However, it has been noted that France’s potential exit from the EU would not only have undeniably negative effects on the organisation itself, but also on the French economy. In addition to this, it would have affected France’s already high unemployment rate as the decreased economic activity would lead to an increase in unemployment, followed by an increase in taxation and inflation. But the French elections would not have solely determined France’s role in the EU; the result of the Presidential election would also be indicative of a further rise of populism in Europe.

The election of Donald Trump in the US, Brexit, and the resignation of former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, all displayed the beginnings of Western populism. Hence, Ms Le Pen’s victory would have represented the rising xenophobia and even the end of French ideals of “liberty, equality and brotherhood.” France is a nation where Muslims make up a large part of the population, and Ms Le Pen’s Islamophobic rhetoric could have led to an increase in hate crimes and racially fuelled discrimination, leading to unfair treatment of innocent people.

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The 2017 French presidential election is undoubtedly important not only for the French government and its constituents, but also for Europe and, to a greater extent, the rest of the world. As we drew closer to another crucial election, the whole world, along with Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron, awaited and the French voters had the opportunity to determine the fate.

Fortunately, Mr Macron saw an overwhelming win, with over 65% of the votes. As aforementioned, Macron expressed divergent policies to that of Ms Le Pen. With regards to immigration, he wants equitable division of immigrants in the countries of the Eurozone and stricter border control. Unlike Ms Le Pen’s anti-Islamic rhetoric, Mr Macron has been quoted saying that “No religion is a problem in France.” Mr Macron’s win was perceived extremely well by France and the rest of the world; Macron even received congratulations from President Trump.

While the road ahead may not be akin to Oz’s Yellow Brick Road, as exemplified in the recent post-election hacking scandal, Macron’s win signifies a loss of the spread of populism and the “alt-right” movement in one of Europe’s and the world’s biggest democracies.

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