Gouri Sankar Nag, Manas Mukul Bandyopadhyay
It is time for deeper introspection for the entire European politics which is nudged by turmoil ad infinitum. Initially, we thought that the demise of the Cold War would indeed turn out to be a good omen for boosting the European integration process as a successful model. But political crisis in Europe manifested itself repeatedly around the outset of the 2000s through a number of symptoms like increasing hiatus between west and east, disquiet in the east especially owing to the rise of Russia and its assertion and instability reigniting historical fissures in Europe.
Thus, if the earlier trends were towards some benign-spirited partnership, the visible trend is increasingly towards divergence and bitter conflicts in practices and policies that seem to come full circle with strong anti-EU syndrome playing its role through BREXIT. But even if we explain the latter as a moment of opportunity for France to become hegemonic within the EU, foolish are we to think through such naivety because it faces Germany and Russia as most potential contenders which are capable to shatter the rosy notion and prediction of any fool-proof category of Europe becoming a security community in a comprehensive and holistic sense.
In this context, it is difficult to find any radical re-construction route to save France except for its sagacity or failure to keep engaged in the affairs as an appendage. So from that point, we don’t find any bright spot in the triumph of Emanuel Macron but anything could have happened in which, of course, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen had a clear advantage.
However, in politics, the most fashionable is its unpredictability which also puts into question the nature of democracy, the authentic power of public space and the candid role of media. In practice, in France all three combined surprisingly and led to the most unexpected poll results in which Macron defeated the far-right Marine Le Pen with 58.55 per cent of the vote. If the opposite happened, a counter-revolution would have taken place.
In fact, we surmise that this was the narrative that might have its role in influencing and preventing, if not forestalling Macron’s defeat or over-determining his prospect of victory. It can therefore be assumed that the image of Macron does not appear to be French voters’ first choice. It was a kind of exercise under duress reflecting the compulsion of common voters who opted for prevention, not cure of the deep political rut in the French polity.
Now let us delve deeper. The European programme or activity has been considered as a regulatory factor in France’s economy and politics for the last few decades, regardless of party affiliation.
This unspeakable rule is no exception for this time too. One of the most important issues in the French Presidential election in 2022 was the irrelevance of the traditional left and right parties. Actually, its background was ready in the French Presidential election of 2017; this time it was seen that politics, instead of the traditional party, was becoming dependent on unconventional political initiatives or blocs.
In the very first round, the following three blocs came up in the front row: the first consisted of the extreme left and the supporters of full-fledged autonomous self-government, whose main proponent is Jean- Luc-Melenchon; the second was the moderate and the European, whose face was Macron, and the third comprised a group of fiercely nationalist and anti-European constellations, whose face was Marine Le Pen.
Macron vs. Marine Le Pen in the final round, which was symptomatic of the current state of political polarization to match with the 2017 election; everything else was inconsistent, though not insignificant in terms of implications. Last time Macron was the new face, but this time he is the former President and the result achieved in that role has tarnished his political identity. He has become an easy target for resentment of the common rank and file due to the failure of the statesmanship.
This time, in addition to Marine Le Pen, two more branches of the far-right fielded candidates in the first round. The majority of their votes (about 10 per cent) went to Le Pen’s bag in the second round. So judging by this result compared to the result of 2017, there was a reason for deep concern. Because compared to the 2017 election, the votes of the far-right increased by about 8 per cent. The number of people averse to voting also went up by about 3 per cent.
In other words, there were a number of gross shortcomings in running the state, which were taken advantage of by Marine Le Pen and her groups. In fact, five years of Macron’s leadership have been repeatedly marred by many impediments. Benalla affair (scandal) alleges abuse of state power by the direct or indirect influence of the President. The critics awarded Macron-Raj with a newly invented title like mass-dictatorship or semi-dictatorship.
Yet we are bemused to find the paradoxical mandate in favour of Macron in the country which is known for its revolutionary propagation and transformation in Europe. The people of France are very sensitive and aesthetically oriented. They hate centralization although their past support for Napoleon to De Gaulle cannot certainly be compared to Macron who is not a charismatic hero.
It is also a puzzle how the social sphere of France despite wide protests against his style of governance and the yellow jacket movement could ultimately trigger a diametrically opposite reaction of support instead of curtailing his appeal and drastically reducing his legitimacy.
Actually, the emergence of Macron in 2017 raised a skyrocketing expectation in response to which this political tsunami was created. Whoever studies contemporary Europe is familiar with the diverse reactions of European states to the wave of refugees which it saw as a source of multiple insecurities. Although prima facie was a conservative reaction, there was no doubt that it gave capitalism a big boost in terms of cheap labour to exploit.
But the paradox of French society with its elite-aristocratic leanings found in it a new fuel for politics based on religion, ethnicity etc. Moreover, on the issue of the age of retirement, the Head of State burned his hand while trying to bring reforms in it. Meanwhile, the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic devastated Europe.
Here we would refer to Judy Dempsey who aptly commented that French President Emmanuel Macron adopted a bit gung ho approach while Angela Merkel of Germany, a scientist by training, adopted a different, far more cautious approach. The skeletal appearance of the health system of France an advanced country was exposed.
The man who broke the national border and became globalized in the wider field, the same man again shrunk in fear within his own boundaries. ‘If you want to survive confine yourself to the smaller border’ – the anti-Macron slogan seemed to justify the mood of anxiety that permeated the system and exposed the inner impotency of the regime in which if we locate individual perceptions then such an electoral outcome seems quite unbecoming.
On the contrary, it might also happen that the French society was ultimately constrained to risk any change by which we would like to refer to the current situational challenges in post-Covid Europe and global politics at large—the factors which are less perceptible than party organizations running a campaign but which are no less decisive in the sense they embed the institutions and influence members in various ways.
Here we can reiterate the inner tussle within Europe, the vulnerability of the region due to the outbreak of military conflicts and most prominently in the wake of the Russian aggression in Ukraine that came up just as the economy was trying to get back its own rhythm again after the lethal pandemic wave had receded. To put it in other words, if there is a real opponent of President Macron in the election, then these are to be considered.
Although late, Macron has realized his mistakes. “Many of those who voted for me are not in favour of my ideology, they voted for me to block the extreme right” – he said in a restrained speech after the victory. He knows very well that his victory was largely due to the active support of the Leftist forces.
In this France, divided by hesitation and conflict, his job is to give equal importance to the needs and feelings of all regardless of party affiliation. It may be supposed that tomorrow he will make sure, no one feels neglected anymore. “The new era that is about to begin will not be a continuation of the past regime.” To put it differently, it is not a day of rejoicing, but many battles are waiting in the coming days.
Many such funeral-fires are burning not only in the home country but all over the world. Therefore, in the international arena too, Macron must become a harbinger of peace and unity.
The first phase of the struggle is the upcoming election of the National Assembly. Not only the people’s representative but also the Prime Minister will be elected through that election. The National Assembly election bell rang before the ambience of the Presidential election is over.
However, the first stick fell on the drum of the election shortly after the announcement of the results of the first round. Jean- Luc-Luk Melenchon, who dropped out of the first round race at number three, said, he was very much in the race, not dropped at all. Mr Melenchon appealed to the French nation to make him Prime Minister and also called for political coexistence, as happened three times in the history of the French Republic of France.
The first time was during the tenure of President Francois Mitterrand (1986-88); it coexisted with the government of the right-wing Jacques Chirac; for the second time in 1993-95, it coexisted with the government of Edouard Balladur. The third coexisted pattern was created during the reign of Chirac; he had to coexist with the Lionel Robert Jospin-led Leftist government (1997-2002).
What is going to happen next? Coexistence again or something else — that is the million-dollar question. Being elected in 2017, he made his first public appearance – alone. In 2022 he came to be surrounded by his wife and son. Does this scene have any new meaning and appeal to the masses?
This time the victory rally took place at Shad Mars. Is not that also very symbolic? The mythical character Mars is the god of war. The word Shad Mars is again considered a celebration ground after the fall of the Bastille Fort, a symbol of national unity in the French collective imagination. Of Course, there are now several profound crack-lines in the body of French society surrounding the generation, religion, class and so on.
On the other hand, the prices of essential commodities like food, electricity, fuel etc. are skyrocketing now. Sometimes it may seem that at the microphone is the dialogue of the Hero of the Greek tragedy, in the infallible voice of the victorious President: “I have to soothe every flame of the fire of wrath.” The French people now have only one demand for the President – that of nursing.
Macron is reelected President of France for the 2nd time in 20 years; congratulations are therefore deserving, but a thorn-bite mixed with that congratulations. However, the far-right has not done so well in any previous election in France; contrastingly, the votes of Macron have also decreased a lot compared to the 2017 election.
The important point is that the leftist candidate Luk received 22 per cent of the vote in the first round. The fierce fighting in both episodes and the overwhelming turnout of the two main opposition candidates prove that the anti-establishment sentiment among French voters at the moment is not to be ignored. This result has also clarified the division of society. It is difficult to say how much the future will be comfortable, even if President Macron can relieve himself and the liberal part of the country on this journey.
But as President, we must observe some positive developments in the early part of Macron’s reign. Paris’s leading role in geopolitical activities has been recognized as the economy has improved in the way Macron has portrayed France to the world as a pro-market Europe and a moderate. Besides, his role in the ongoing Ukraine crisis is also noteworthy.
On the other hand, the pandemic’s effect on the French economy has been somehow managed by his administration – France is quickly returned on track, and the unemployment problem is at an all-time low. Even then, the far-right candidate Marine Pen continued to campaign against the European Union, globalization and immigration, and the response of the people is enough in it.
These episodes are not very unfamiliar in France—Labour law reform, the financial hardship of working peasants, the rising cost of living –all these are mixed up tactically by the politician Le Pen with the poison of racism, concomitant insecurity etc. This story of France is not difficult to understand, as we have reiterated a broader contextual picture which is now, by and large, evident in many European countries.
And needless to say that this picture is still strewn with difficulties related to a lack of consensus to partake in a single space through shared responsibility, the divergence between high and lower-level politics, historical revisionism etc. In this context, can Macron really become another Schuman?
On the contrary, Schuman’s initiative for Europe’s Coal and Steel Community in the early 1950s was a burning need of the hour to rid of the devastations caused by WWII. Now after more than five decades we cannot say that a simple market-oriented approach would be an effective panacea to Europe’s current ills for capitalism has become an exceedingly giant monster and France in its paw is bound to acquiesce to its rules to become a new avatar at the drivers’ seat of European politics.
Nevertheless from a shallow perspective Macron has autonomy and a lot of responsibilities to serve. Europe and the Pacific, no region is geopolitically stable at the moment. Whether Ukraine is at war or the rise of China –joint action by regional liberal democracies is now necessary to prevent the concatenation of authoritarian forces. There is no denying the importance of the mandate for stability in the politics of the French Republic.
Macron has always been an outspoken marketer and liberal, and this time around, all eyes will be on Paris’s leading role in guiding France as well as Europe towards stability. It should be noted that in the case of Asia, too, Macron has repeatedly insisted on following the rule of law. During his tenure, therefore, strategic and economic ties with India have also intensified. It is understood that the thorn in the side of victory and the burden of great hope, both together will go a difficult way in the future.
Read more by Gouri Sankar Nag and Manas Mukul Bandyopadhyay here:
The Cycle of Democratic Crisis in Pakistan| 28 April 2021
The Toxicity of ‘Pegasus’ Expose| 3 August 2021
About the Authors
Dr Gouri Sankar Nag, Professor in Political Science at Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University.
Dr Manas Mukul Bandyopadhyay, Associate Professor of Political Science at the PG Department of Political Science, Hooghly Mohsin College, West Bengal.