The upcoming first round of the French presidential election will take place April 23 and will likely have repercussions spanning across Europe and beyond. For decades, the French have been in a period of political and economic stagnation, experiencing little change or reform. However, an upheaval of this trend may be close at hand, The outcome of the French presidential election could either push the European Union into a major step backward or revitalize the organization.
The French election is one of three set to take place this year in Western Europe – after the Dutch election and before the German election. All three will have critical consequences for the future of the EU. Each of these countries are among the six original nations that formed the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, an organization that is the predecessor of today’s EU. The crucial nature of these elections is that, depending on which candidates are elected, we may see the unprecedented downfall of the EU, which has successfully enabled the continent to evade wars and conflict for decades.
In France, the outcome of the race is less certain than it was in the Netherlands or will be in Germany, as the top five candidates “made controversial remarks and have doubtful policy promises to win the presidency,” according to news sources.
There are, however, two candidates rising above the rest: Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, and Emmanuel Macron, a newcomer and leader of the liberal movement En Marche! (On the Move!), which started just last year.
These two candidates represent the new global trend. In the past, the major divisions between candidates have been between the left and right parties, but that paradigm is growing less important. A new one has taken its place in the division between those who support open or closed borders — in other words, whether to close off France’s borders and, in some ways, its ties to other nations.
This election comes during a period of great volatility in France. France has suffered a series of terror attacks and the unemployment rate has remained around 10 percent for some time, including a quarter of France’s youth. In addition, the French economy has been slow and the country faces high taxes and heavy regulation.
Both Macron and Le Pen tap into the fear and frustration caused by these events– though with widely different approaches. Le Pen blames those from outside France for the country’s woes, and assures voters that she will help them by creating more barriers and increasing social welfare. Seeing globalization as a threat to French jobs and Islamists as inciters of terror, she is in favor of shutting out the rest of the world. She views the EU as “an anti-democratic monster” and wishes to call a referendum on leaving the organization. Also on her wish list: closing radical mosques, greatly decreasing the flow of immigrants into France, blocking foreign trade and moving off the euro currency and reviving the French franc.
Macron’s views go in the opposite direction. He believes that making France more open would in fact make the country stronger. He is steadfastly pro-trade, pro-immigration, pro-competition and pro-EU. He believes in cultural change and less labor protections. In short, he presents himself as a pro-globalization revolutionary.
Neither candidate would easily be able to enact their agenda, due to the fact that Le Pen’s party will not have a majority in the national assembly and Macon doesn’t have a strongly built party to begin with.
However, a win for Macron would mean a more liberal France. Victory for Le Pen, on the other hand, would lead to a closed and more insular France. Also, if Le Pen takes France off the euro, a financial crisis could likely be triggered and the EU, an organization that has stood for peace and prosperity for several decades, might be destroyed.
With just a few weeks to go until the election, it’s hard to tell what will happen. However, the end result may well be either a stronger Europe, or a Frexit which leads to the end of the EU.