An Election Day Yet to Come

While Emmanuel Macron has completed his transformation from a supporter of the “movement” into a guardian of the order, with all that that implies, including authoritarian, autocratic and liberticidal excesses, these European elections could provide an occasion to censure him and his government’s policy vis-à-vis the EU, Jacques Sapir writes. 

The European elections will be held on May 23-26th. These elections, which are supposed to reflect European issues, are in fact about national issues, ultimate proof that the notion of a European “people” is a fiction and the concept of “European sovereignty,” which the President of the French Republic likes so much, is complete nonsense. However, these elections are an important moment in French politics, both because they provide an opportunity to check the beliefs (displayed or discrete) of everyone, to take a closer look at the government’s policy vis-à-vis the EU, and to take stock of the choice of strategy. 

As far as the French government’s policy towards the EU is concerned, it is clear that we are in a total gridlock. During his election, Emmanuel Macron set for himself the goal of rebuilding the EU and reshaping the functioning of the EU into a more federalist union, relying on one of the antiphons of successive French governments: the Franco-German axis. Moreover, he intended to carry out an operation of pure political demagogy by placing the list of candidates he supports, that of La République en Marche and MODEM, in opposition to those he described as “nationalists.” It was for him to replay the score that had served so well in 2017, that of the opposition of so-called “progressivism” to the forces of a supposed “nationalism” camp. For this, he was ready to accelerate the compliance of the French economy with EU rules.

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Alas, nothing happened as planned. There are several reasons for this. The first, quite obvious one is that the Franco-German “couple” exists only for the French political class. This expression is hardly used at all in Germany or it is not taken seriously. This was not to say that Germany has no interest, in some respect, in French politics. But the German political class conceives of this interest from the point of view of German interests. There is no room here for any merger of interests. This attitude can also be understood. Germany was ambiguous about its relationship with France in the seventies and eighties, when it knew that Germany was not to be given an opportunity to openly express its political interests. The French political class has been able to gargle about an alleged division of labour and politics in France, and economics in Germany. But such sharing was at best transitory. Once Germany shackled the French economy through the euro, with the assent and even the shouts of joy of a large part of France’s political class, it must be said, it has gradually been able to develop an increasingly assertive vision of its political interests. 

Emmanuel Macron then discovered an obvious fact: Germany pursues its interests and its strategic aims. If France wants to comply, so much the better; if she does not, that’s just too bad. But the message sent over the past few weeks, even in recent months, is very clear: Germany does not intend to subject its newfound sovereignty to some kind of guardianship by a Franco-German axis, which it has rejected until this day. 

As a matter of fact, Emmanuel Macron’s policy both vis-à-vis Germany and the EU has now collapsed. Macron sacrificed the possibilities of building alliances with countries which have difficulties with German politics on the pretext that nothing was to compromise what he called the “proper functioning” of the so-called axis. He is now isolated, having lost his credibility not only in Germany but also among many partners in the EU. He finds himself forced to go it alone, a posture that is neither his choice nor coherent.  

But by doing so, in the name of a French vision of what the European Union should be, a vision that has proved to be largely utopian, Macron has isolated himself from France’s partners.

The problem is obvious with Germany, which has taken Macron’s “federalist” wishes very badly. But without Germany, his initial plan to revive European construction had no chance of succeeding. The problem is also present in other countries. The confrontation with Italy, an over-played confrontation because it allowed Emmanuel Macron to impute this narrative saga of opposition between “progressives” and “nationalists,” has led to the isolation of France; this isolation leads to paralysis. It is highly unlikely that, in less than four weeks, the European elections of May 26 will upset the deal. It is even improbable that it will go that far.

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The scandal that struck Nathalie Loiseau, the head of the LAREM-MODEM list, who was forced to acknowledge her participation in a far-right movement in her youth, confirms that this opposition between “progressives” and “nationalists” is staged. Not only has Emmanuel Macron’s point of view of foreign policy lost out, he is also losing in domestic politics. The revelation of Mrs. Loiseau’s youthful acquaintance with the most extreme right sinks the ship that the yellow vest crisis, currently in its 5th month, had seriously shaken. The erosion of voter appeal for this list, long suspected, is now very real. Two years after his election, Emmanuel Macron’s European ambition now appears to be faltering, as is his ability to get back on track in domestic politics. 

Macron’s European identity crisis may be peculiar, but it is not specific to the President of the Republic. France’s Republicans may benefit from the popularity of François-Xavier Bellamy, the head of their list. Bellamy seems capable, at least in the weeks leading up to the election, of reunifying the centre-right. But, the importance of the sticking points which have yet to be addressed remains an intrinsic Achilles’ heel of this list. It brings together people who stand in exactly opposite positions on the EU issue. Even the campaign slogan “Refound Europe, restore France,” which was not arrived at without some pain, betrays the ambiguities of this list. This is because these elections are not about Europe, but about the EU. Any attempt to re-establish France will inevitably run up against EU directives, directives which for the most part can only be changed unanimously. The trap of the EU has closed on the Republicans, who are today forced to contort themselves politically: to say that they want more Europe, but another Europe, and that nevertheless the EU must be retained. 

In their defence, they are not the only ones. Other parties, including the refugees from the destruction of the Socialist Party who have united behind Benoit Hamon and the lost souls of the Communist Party behind Brossat, are caught in the same trap. They reject the anti-social rules of the EU, which is very good, but they refuse to admit that France lacks the capacity to change these rules, given the absence of unanimity on some points and widespread disagreement over others. This explains the feeling of uneasiness rising from their campaigns. One wonders if these people really have any knowledge of the rules and procedures of the EU or if they consider the denunciation of anti-social measures to be a figure of rhetoric, necessary vis-à-vis their electorates.

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The National Rally party is campaigning on the desire to change the EU from the inside, hoping for an absolute majority in the European Parliament. This hope is the most tenuous. If at best, the group and its allies obtained a relative majority, they would have to face an opposition bloc uniting the various parties against them. From then on, they would have no other option than to watch European regulations go by them like trains. Even if they obtained an absolute majority, they would run up against the EU structures which make the Council of Ministers of the different countries the real organ of power. Remember that Parliament is not the master of its agenda. Let’s add that the shadow of RN President Marine Le Pen and her relative lack of credibility could take a toll on this list. This is not essential in this type of election, but it still plays a role. 

As for the small parties, the neo-Gaullist Debout la France list is illegible as a result of both tactical and strategic mistakes, and the Popular Republican Union and the Patriots seem to be walled in a sterile one for themselves. 

We will not be talking here about Europhile lists, whether it’s the Europe Ecologie les Verts (Greens), which should attract a small but honourable proportion of the electorate, or the “Place Publique” list, the list of Glucksman Jr. which has little more interest than an old tin. 

There is one missing name in this table; the list of Mélenchon’s “Insoumis.” Here again, a certain ambiguity, coupled with questionable tactical choices, puts this list at the bottom of the picture. Whereas in the early months of the Macron Presidency, the “Unbowed” had achieved very good results, building themselves up as real and serious opposition in Parliament, they ruined this work through the choices they made late in the summer of 2018. By wanting to position themselves as “rallying” the “left,” they have paradoxically restored some of the credibility of the moribund Socialist Party. Obsessed with this tactic, they threw overboard what they had gained through the strength of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s campaign in the spring of 2017. What was called “populism,” which it might be better to call popular choices, had been one of the highlights of the campaign. The questionable tactical turn has thus turned into a real strategic shift that has led France Insoumise to search for votes in an electorate where it can feed only few hopes of success, in the metropolitan centres and among certain occupational categories. This strategic turn has also resulted in the departure of some of the members of the movement. Some of these departures were made with noise and fury, while others slipped away in silence. Moreover, this strategic shift has highlighted the problems with the internal democracy of a movement that refuses any real structuring.

The fall in voter intensions was therefore spectacular. A party which once polled at nearly 15% is seeing its list today polling alongside the Greens at around the 7% mark, followed by the list of survivors of the Socialist Party led by Benoit Hamon. It is likely that an initial awareness and tactical error, and the need to return to France Insoumise’s original strategy, is emerging. But, if a new turn in this direction were to be taken by the leaders of the party, would it be sufficient, considering the accumulated liabilities? As written in the introduction, the election is a month away. 

While Emmanuel Macron has completed his transformation from a supporter of the “movement” into a guardian of the order, with all that that implies, including authoritarian, autocratic and liberticidal excesses, these European elections could provide an occasion to censure him and his government’s policy vis-à-vis the EU. But ambiguities regarding what the EU is, the political errors committed, and finally the sectarian excesses, have weakened the political expression of opposition, which is nonetheless massive within French public opinion, as the polls have indicated. Emmanuel Macron may be weakened, discredited, and even hated, but he is likely to dominate the field of ruins of an opposition divided by its illusions, pretences and rancour.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.