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PORTSIDE  April 2012, Week 4

PORTSIDE April 2012, Week 4

Subject:

French Elections: Cracks in the Neoliberal Consensus

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Thu, 26 Apr 2012 22:06:38 -0400

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French Elections: Cracks in the Neoliberal Consensus 

Disillusion With the Euro and Europe
French Elections: Cracks in the Neoliberal Consensus 

by Diana Johnstone 

CounterPunch
April 24, 2012

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/04/24/disillusion-with-the-euro-and-europe/

Democratic elections in the NATO member states serve one
clear purpose. They contribute to the self-satisfaction
concerning "our values" needed to justify military
intervention in the imperfect internal affairs of other
countries.  But do the citizens really decide policy through
their votes, or is electoral democracy fatally corrupted by
the power of money?

At least in its form, the French presidential election is a
model of resistance to the power of money that so blatantly
dominates presidential elections in the United States.

While the United States is locked in a two-party system
where both parties depend on millions of dollars from rich
donors, the French two-round system allows as many
candidates as can gather the required number (500) of
mayors' signatures to run in the first round.  Then voters
can decide between the two front-runners in the second
round.

For the final phase of the first round campaign, which ended
with the election this Sunday, April 22, all candidates
receive equal television time to get across their message,
without having to pay for it.

This time around, there were ten candidates, five of whom
had at least a chance at the start to make it into the
second round, even though polls showed the incumbent Nicolas
Sarkozy and the Socialist Party candidate François Hollande
leading the pack.  But an upset was at least theoretically
possible, as happened in 2002, when the National Front
candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen knocked out the Socialist Party
candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round, handing Jacques
Chirac a landslide victory in the run-off.

The most suspenseful aspect of the first round turned out to
be the duel for third place between Jean-Marie's daughter
and political successor Marine Le Pen and the Left Front
candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.  Marine set out to beat her
father's score ten years ago, while Mélenchon set himself
the goal of beating her.  The two adversaries were the most
charismatic of the ten candidates.  As candidate of the Left
Front, Mélenchon lost his bid to come in third, but thanks
to his extraordinary verbal skills has succeeded in reviving
a political force to the left of the Socialist Party.

Percentage results of candidates in April 22 first round of
French Persidential election

François Hollande, 
Socialist Party                            29 %

Nicolas Sarkozy, 
outgoing President                         26 %

Marine Le Pen, 
National Front                             18 %

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 
Left Front                                 11 %

François Bayrou, 
centrist                                    9 %

Eva Joly, 
Greens                                      2 %

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, 
Social Gaullist                             1.8%

Philippe Poutou, 
New Anti-Capitalist Party (Trotskyist)      1.2%

Nathalie Arthaud, 
communist (Lutte Ouvrière, Trotskyist)      0.7%

Jacques Cheminade, 
progressist (Lyndon Larouche influence)     0.2%

Participation was high, at around 80%.  The first round is
altogether more entertaining and interesting than the second
round. It provides more information about the real
preferences of voters than the second round, which, like
U.S. presidential elections, is often decided on the "lesser
evil" principle, with increasing numbers of voters aware
that whoever wins, the policies will be much the same.

A few observations:

Every candidate except Sarkozy, the self-styled centrist
Bayrou and the Green candidate Eva Joly singled out the
world of finance as the main adversary.  Hollande did so
quite explicitly in his main campaign speech, although
shortly afterwards he watered his wine considerably during a
visit to London, the City oblige.  This hostility toward
banks has horrified Anglo-American commentators, from The
Economist to John Vinocur of the International Herald
Tribune, for whom realism consists in docile obedience to
the demands of "the markets". Acting uppity toward finance
capital is close to insanity. If "the right" is defined
first of all by subservience to finance capital, then aside
from Sarkozy, Bayrou and perhaps Joly, all the other
candidates were basically on the left.  And all of them
except Sarkozy would be considered far to the left of any
leading politician in the United States.

This applies notably to Marine Le Pen, whose social program
was designed to win working class and youth votes.  Her "far
right" label is due primarily to her criticism of Muslim
practices in France and demands to reduce immigration
quotas, but her position on these issues would be considered
moderate in the Netherlands or in much of the United States.
Even she stressed that the immigration problem, as she saw
it, was not the fault of the immigrants themselves but of
the politicians and the elite who brought them here.  The
main tone of her political message was resolutely populist,
attacking the "Paris elite".  Demagogic, yes, often vague
and playing fast and loose with statistics, but a model of
reason compared to the utterances of the "Tea Party".  Her
political challenge was to hold onto her father's ultra-
conservative constituency while wooing discontented low
income voters.  She apparently won more working class votes
than Mélenchon.

Mélenchon left the Socialist party to found the Left Party
in 2008.  As candidate for the broader Left Front, he has
raised the spirits of the demoralized French Communist
Party, which fell below 2% in the 2007 election and gave up
running a candidate of its own.  Its militants have
responded enthusiastically to Mélenchon's revival of red
flags and fiery rhetoric. He would put lower and upper
limits on wages and salaries. His program, including calls
for constitutional revision that would guarantee such
progressive measures as gay marriage, assisted suicide and
the right to abortion, surely goes far beyond the demands of
his constituency, more concerned with jobs and wages, and
reflects his personal adherence to the progressive
philosophy of French Free Masonry.  It is certainly his
quick witted debating skill that appeals to voters more than
the details of his ambitious program.

Disillusion with the euro and Europe

The two leading candidates remain faithful to the dogma of
"European construction".  But elsewhere splits are beginning
to show.  Marine Le Pen condemns the euro as a failure which
had wrecked European economies and is doomed to disappear.

Certainly, François Asselineau, who has founded his own
party, the Union Populaire Républicaine, with the sole
object of leaving the European Union, has been totally
deprived of any media coverage, and was unable to gather the
necessary signatures for candidacy. But the social Gaullist
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who is only beginning to be known to
the French public, is adamant that France should return to
the franc, retaining the euro only as a reserve currency
around which EU member state currencies should be allowed to
fluctuate.  Dupont-Aignan calls the euro a "racket" and a
"poison" for EU economies, which are too diverse for a
single currency.  To the objection that leaving the euro
would cause huge inflation, he accuses present EU leaders of
creating inflation by allowing private banks to borrow at 1%
and then ruin member States by lending to them at higher and
higher rates.  After France recovers its sovereignty by
leaving the euro, Dupont-Aignan would have the Bank of
France finance the state at zero interest, which would allow
the government to reduce its debt and hire more teachers,
policemen and researchers, instead of reducing their number.
He would also take measures to protect French industry from
cheap imports.

In contrast, Mélenchon advocates strongly interventionist
economic policies without accounting for the fact that they
would go against European Union directives as well as the
monetarist policy governing the euro. Mélenchon speaks of
using the economic weight of France to persuade Germany to
change its deflationist policies.  This raises the problem
of the clear contradiction between social policies to which
the French are attached and the European Union's control of
economic policy that is fatal to those social policies.

Foreign policy confusion

Foreign policy has been almost entirely absent from this
campaign. This could be because voters are not thought to be
interested, or because there is no strong opposition between
the candidates.  François Hollande conforms to the
mainstream consensus, saying he would support military
intervention in Syria if based on a UN resolution.  Much of
the French left has swallowed the "Responsibility to
Protect" ideology.

Already last year, Mélenchon dismayed a certain number of
his admirers by supporting the war in Libya, on the grounds
that it was based on a UN Resolution.  He now calls for
withdrawal from NATO and construction of an independent
United Nations intervention force.

Not surprisingly, the Gaullist Dupont-Aignan opposes arming
the Syrian opposition, pointing to the fact that arms
provided to Libyan rebels ended up in the hands of militias
who are destabilizing the whole region.  He maintains that
France should have acted differently in Libya and with
Russia, instead of following the anti-Russian policy of the
United States.

Among the leading candidates, the only clear anti-war policy
is that of Marine Le Pen, who favors immediate withdrawal
from both Afghanistan and the NATO command, describes the
current French government policy of supporting the Syrian
opposition as "totally irresponsible", calls for recognition
of a Palestinian State and opposes threats to bomb Iranian
nuclear sites, which have not been proven to be military.
And she adds: "As far as I know, no nation which has atomic
weapons has ever asked for permission from anyone, neither
the United States, nor France, nor Israel, nor Pakistan...
Must we then plunge the world into a war whose extent we
will not control because certain foreign counties ask us
to?"

Marine Le Pen is regularly stigmatized as "racist" for her
desire to reduce immigration.  But which is worse: refusing
entry to Muslim immigrants, or bombing them in their home
countries?

The worst is yet to come

Even before the vote, John Vinocur raged against the
"miserable precedent" represented by the fact that what he
dubbed the "Rejection Front" made up of Marine Le Pen and
Jean-Luc Mélenchon was almost sure to beat the first round
score of either mainstream candidate. Thus, he said, France
would have "legitimatized two political currents that spurn
serious solutions for France's economic grief, reject
civility and common sense and variously propose regression
through loony yet authoritarian economics, class warfare,
class or racial prejudices, anti-Western instincts, and the
politics of endless rage."

Wow, take that you frogs.  Look to the calm, intelligent
debate of  U.S. Republican primaries for guidance, and
remember that whatever foolish things you want, like jobs,
medical care or a roof over your head, it's the markets that
have the last word.

Exit polls pointed to a solid victory for Hollande in the
second round.  The standard description of Marine Le Pen as
"the far right" could suggest that her voters would turn to
the right wing candidate, Sarkozy, in the runoff.  But this
is far from the case.  The social and foreign policy
positions of Marine Le Pen have won over a number of voters
disenchanted with the left. Her voters may split fifty-fifty
in the second round.  She herself clearly looks forward to
the defeat of Sarkozy in order to become the undisputed
leader of a recomposed right-wing opposition, which could
make life difficult for the future President Hollande.
Perhaps the only thing that could save Sarkozy would be
massive abstention, but that does not look likely.

Actually, the timing of this election is favorable to a
fairly limp, ill-defined candidate like Hollande, because
the future is as unclear as he is.  The Greek disaster, the
financial woes of Portugal, Spain and Italy are ominous for
France, and the French are worried.  But most French people
are still too well off to be seriously alarmed.  The critics
like Vinocur or The Economist seem to think that a French
candidate for president should run on a campaign of telling
people that they should happily prepare to give up all the
comforts they enjoy, because that is what the financial
markets demand.  If things are as bad as these champions of
financial globalization are predicting, then this first
round may provide better hints to the French future than the
final round of the Hollande-Sarkozy election in two weeks
time.

[Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia,
NATO and Western Delusions. She can be reached at
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