By Basil Wilson for Carib News
The Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, in his novel, Things Fall Apart, elucidated how modernization had a profound impact on traditional African society. The rollback of European empires has also had a traumatic impact on European society. Europe in the post-World War 11 period has shed the age-old tradition of imperialistic warfare. These countries had the wisdom to come together to build the European Union and NATO that have been instrumental in preserving the peace and creating conditions for prosperity.
As Europe retreated from far-flung empires, the respective countries established the largest free market economy that has brought together under the umbrella of the European Union twenty-eight countries. But as Brexit demonstrated and the May 7, 2017 French election will be another critical test, European unity is being severely challenged.
It is not unusual for segments of European society to feel threatened by the loss of national identity and full sovereignty. Certainly the referendum held in Britain in 2016, the British majority voted to extricate the Union Jack from the European Union. There were strong feelings in Britain that as members of the European Union, Britain had lost control over its immigration policy and its rights as a sovereign nation. There was no massive influx of Middle Eastern or North African refugees destabilizing the British social order. The Brits were terrified of the influx of Eastern Europeans entering the British labor market. The European Union allows the free movement of capital and the free movement of labour within the designated jurisdiction. The British embraced the former but were troubled by the latter.
There is no question that in this globalized world some countries have fared better than others. Within countries, some regions have prospered and some regions have seen their productive forces removed calamitously in search of cheaper labour. Globalization has taken millions of the world’s population out of poverty but it has also exacerbated income inequality.
As a result of this convulsive movement of plants and people, an anti-globalization tendency has emerged that was manifested in the 2016 American presidential election, in the British referendum in 2016, in the recent elections in the Netherlands and is in full swing in France.
French elections are conducted quite differently than in the United States. Billionaires and the corporate entities are not as dominant and the electoral cycle is not unending. Eleven candidates competed for the Presidency of the French Republic but only four were seen as serious contenders. The four reflected the entire ideological spectrum. Jean-Luc Melenchon assumed the mantle of the radical left and even though reports signified that his campaign was surging, Melenchon did not finish among the first two to make the run off that will be held in a fortnight on May 7, 2017. Melenchon finished with 19.6 percent of the vote.
Francois Fillon represented the established right in France but his candidacy was derailed by charges of embezzlement. His wife was paid for what the state has charged was a no-show job. Although pressured to drop out of the race, Fillon insisted on staying the course and surprisingly won 19.8 percent of the vote.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the neo-fascist National Front, obtained sufficient votes to finish behind Emmanuel Macron, the frontrunner. She gobbled up 21.4 percent of the vote. Even though she has qualified for the second round, Marine Le Pen has seen her appeal and popularity decline in recent weeks.
After taking over the National Front from her father, she has cleverly tried to make the neo-fascist Party more acceptable to the French electorate. Her message is about preserving French identity which she presumes is under threat from immigrants and refugees from North Africa and the Middle East. Her ideology exemplifies populism which in her version is vehemently anti-globalization and anti-European Union. Perchance she wins the election on May 7, she has vowed to hold a referendum to take France out of the European Union and out of NATO.
Her ideology lacks coherence. She is more a statist than someone who is an advocate of small government. She would usher in more welfare spending for the French and more protection for French industry. But her signature theme is the fear of Muslims and wanting to expel immigrants from France. She has struck a discordant chord among a certain segment of the French electorate but is also seen by the majority as destructive and racist.
Emmanuel Macron is at this juncture the frontrunner and the “also ran” Parties are expected to coalesce around his candidacy. Macron served as Economic Minister for two years with the discredited Hollande government. If elected, he would be the youngest President in the history of the French Republic. What Macron has done is to synthesize ideas of the left and the right. He has articulated a message of change, of de-regulating the economy but equally concerned about the high rate of unemployment among the youths of France and disparities in wealth. How Macron translates this ideological synthesis into effective public policy will constitute his steepest challenge.
The fact that the French electorate in the first round of the Presidential election rejected the age-old establishment Parties is an indication of the country’s disillusionment with the status quo. Neither Emmanuel Macron nor Marine Le Pen has any mass support in the French Assembly which will be necessary for governing and those elections will be held after the Presidential election. Macron’s political party is brand new and if he wins on May 7, more than likely he will have to forge a coalition in the National Assembly if he is going to be successful in turning the French economy around.
As we observe the profound political changes taking place in France and elsewhere in Europe, what is remarkable is the decline of Social Democratic Parties. With an election pending in Britain in June, 2017, Theresa May’s Conservative Party has a sizeable lead over the British Labour Party.
What is also clear is that the populist sentiment in Europe and in America amounts to a lot of anti-intellectual rubbish that is unworkable. The Trump administration after 100 days is a classical example that the Alt-Right populism is merely a sugar-coated version of 1930s fascism.