Having recently finished a good biography of Léon Blum I have had a rather Gallic start to the year; perhaps this is just as well given that the French Presidential election will be the main political event of 2017. On the subject of this election, I was rather alarmed to hear the well-known academic Mark Blyth predict a Le Pen victory last night on Newsnight. The soundness of Professor Blyth’s reasoning gave particular cause for concern; he doubts that the French left will rally behind the very neoliberal François Fillon should there be a Fillon-Le Pen second round. This got me thinking today and there are a few points about the future of France/the EU that I would like to make:
- There are indeed reasons to worry about the extent to which the French left will oppose Le Pen in the event of a Fillon vs. Le Pen second round. Given Le Pen’s sympathy for Russia and opposition to neoliberalism, it is difficult to see far-left parties and the radical CGT union (some organizations on the French far-left after all have previous when it comes to collaboration with Russia!) advocating Fillon. I hold out hopes for the French Socialist Party/moderate unions like CFDT, but even if these organizations do back Fillon it is likely that this support will be lukewarm.
- Moving beyond Blyth’s point, there are in any case reasons to doubt the extent to which the leaders of the Socialist Party/trade unions can influence the voting intentions of the working classes. As Brexit/the US election very decisively showed, lower classes are more than happy to show middle fingers to establishments and shrill liberal opposition may even increase the appeal of populists. There is no reason to think France will be different; there are lots of anti-establishment voters in the country and such voters even have their own name (les tous pourris – literal translation ‘the all rottens’, i.e. voters who think all politicians are rotten).
- It would be lovely to predict that Le Pen will not win. After 2017, in which I forecast Remain and Clinton victories, there is no way that I am going to make such a prediction however. Given that the programme of François Fillon is so neoliberal, and neoliberalism is as fashionable as Christmas crackers in January right now, a Le Pen victory is indeed more than feasible.
- It goes without saying that the implications for the future of the EU are terrifying. Another guest on Newsnight last night, the pro-Trump Oxford University academic Ted Malloch, made the point that the EU is so beset with problems that sooner or later something is going to give. It is difficult to argue with this analysis. The multiple crises that the EU is facing, in my view underpinned by the twin problems of freedom of movement and imperfect/incomplete economic integration, mean that the future of the EU does look highly precarious. I don’t think that means the EU is going to collapse in 2017 however, as Professor Malloch also predicted, and I also believe that there is a resilience at the core of European integration that many analysts do not fully take into account.
One thing is for sure: 2017 will be a very interesting year!