The Presidential race did at least produce a ‘surprise’ in that the two candidates through to the second round are both outsiders to the mainstream political parties that have been in power for more than 50 almost 60 years. However between Macron and Le Pen in the second round, it must be certain that Macron will win hands down as the supporters of the other failed candidates rally around him just to keep Marine Le Pen out, it is the French way of doing these things.
First Round or Nothing
To me it was obvious that the only chance Marine Le Pen had was if she could get over 50% in the first round and therefore win outright, failing that, she would inevitably get torpedoed in the second round with whoever was her opponent scooping up the votes of all the other candidates. This is likely to happen on May 7th in the next round with the result that Macron will become the next French President unless his tendency to try and be all things to all people trips him up over the next couple of weeks.
The amusing thing has been some of the BBC’s coverage of the French Election and particularly where they have had English speaking French experts on these matters, I suspect most if not all thus paraded were both Parisian and middle class with all the cultural arrogance that implies. The attitude was that “Of course in the first round the voters like to complain and make their grievances known but they then settle down and vote properly in the second round” And of course to these people, Marine Le Pen was a bad smell who’s supporters were like the “Brexit supporters, uneducated, old and rural” which made me realise a couple of things: (a). They still didn’t even start to grasp the significance of the UK Leave result. (b). No wonder they had a French Revolution, they might yet conjurer up another with such attitudes !
It now seems certain that Macron will be the next French President, his popularity among the young and the support of the political establishment determined to keep Le Pen out would seem to guarantee that however, will that be the best thing for France ? It is not just that he has no political support, his party only started a year ago and he may end up with no elected representatives after June’s elections and will therefore have to rely on building coalitions which rather makes him a hostage to fortune. Although in a different way, there is a danger that he may well disappoint the electorate as Hollande did, it depends I suppose on what the French expect from their President, results or not too bothered.
With his background in banking and from the sound bites I have heard, he would seem to be aware of the main issues that France needs to face in terms of making it easier to get rid of employees and therefore be more prepared to employ people in the first place, they need to free up their labour market in other words. However the problem is that France is both heavily taxed and citizens are used to social payments of one sort or another and real reforms will upset this balance, are the French ready for this ? These sort of changes would require real political guile and leadership to bring about, is Macron the man for the gig or will he become a prisoner of the system ?
He has been variously described as a combination of Blair and Obama but Blair had a good team around him and a lot of political support in Parliament to get things done. Obama was a nice and thoughtful chap but only really effective as US President for the first two years of his eight in Office so neither of these really represent the situation that Macron will face and after the failure of Hollande, can France put up with another Presidential failure ?
Looking in a Mirror
I cannot claim to be very personally ‘invested’ in what happens in France because I don’t think it will either help or hinder Brexit negotiations whoever becomes President but it does seem pretty parallel to the US Presidential election in the sense that neither candidate seems ideal for the times we are in. As I have written many times before, the main problem that the EU faces is centred around the Euro and I was interested to hear Le Pen say that she wanted to leave the eurozone and that made me think about just that proposition. France leaving the Euro wouldn’t help, the only country that ‘needs to leave’ the Euro is today what it was 8 years ago, Germany.
Remove Germany and any other similar Northern Europeans from the eurozone and create a new D Mark zone is the only solution because it would allow the Euro to devalue which would force financial discipline across the remaining members as well as offering the prospect of a return to real economic growth in due course.
From this and prompted by Blair’s recent interventions over Brexit, I said a silent prayer of thanks to Gordon Brown who as Chancellor in the Blair Government, single handedly kept the UK out of the Euro. If left to Blair, he would have had us in the Euro like a shot but Gordon Brown and yes it may in part have been out of spite over his turn to be leader, constructed a series of ‘tests’ that had to be passed before the UK could enter the Euro and I suspect that the conditions could never be met.
The importance of this is came to mind as I thought about Brexit and realised that if we had joined the eurozone, not only financially would we be right up the creek without a paddle today but Brexit itself would almost be impossible or at the very least, a truly Herculean task. In just this context, a shared currency, it makes the ambitions of the SNP in leaving the Union and therefore inevitably Sterling seem totally reckless beyond belief as far as the interests of Scottish voters are concerned.
The Bottom Line
Marine Le Pen is pushing a “France First” or protectionist France with no indications of tax and benefits reforms which are so obviously needed so I don’t see that she would improve France’s position in anyway and restoring the Franc would not just be expensive and disruptive but very difficult. Macron seems to nod towards the right things in terms of needed reforms but he lacks the experience and political clout to get the job done whilst keeping people onside so I don’t see either as delivering anything substantial for France.
But to be fair and for all their experiences, the same applied to the other failed candidates from the establishment parties too, they wouldn’t have the balls to propose let alone push through the structural reforms that France so desperately needs. I wish Macron good luck but suspect that France will be left waiting for a future President that will come after him to deliver the changes needed right now.