The Future of the EU and the Far-Right
As a Canadian student living in France during one of the most heated and divisive elections in recent history, I must concede that it was a very unique experience.
Last month, Emmanuel Macron marched to victory in the 2017 French Presidential elections and beat far right wing candidate Marine Le Pen. It was a tense election. Especially considering the geopolitical context of continental European politics, many political commentators and analysts thought that Le Pen could have clinched victory. But between her bigoted and undeniably racist comments, her overall distaste for progressivism and tolerance, and her stance against EU unification, the French electorate united against her.
Now that the elections have come to a close, what do the results mean for the future of the right wing, French politics, and the future of the EU?
The Right wing
During the very beginning of the election campaign, Marine Le Pen released a two-and-a-half-minute long campaign video showing her steering the ships of France in a Netflix-style clip. While overzealously theatrical, the prospects were terrifying. Why? Because it was good. It tugged at the hearts of any French citizen who had become disenfranchised by the current political system. While many vehemently opposed the ideas of Le Pen and Le Front Nationale (FN), it is undeniable that she knows how to frame herself politically. And it’s this topic of framing that will drive the French right wing to grow stronger and strong in the coming years.
Framing is incredibly important in the political world. If a candidate does not frame him/herself first, then they risk being negatively framed by their opponent. Through Le Pen’s first campaign video, she succeeded at framing herself politically first, without influence from the opposition, and that is what stuck in the minds of the French people. Evoking a frame reinforces that frame. This concept of simple framing is one oft-used in politics and is one Le Pen’s campaign too advantage of.
That is why I argue that this election period was just a warm up for right-wing politics in France. FN succeeded at evoking a frame that stuck in the minds of the French people, and will not fade even throughout the current political mandate. Since they did so successfully, the rise of the right in France will only continue to swell in the future.
Implications on France
France has long been run by a political elite that is often blamed for being out of touch with the people. While Macron is not a career politician, he still comes from a background of educational and professional privilege. His alma mater – Sciences Po – has seen almost every French President come from its gates, and his background in investment banking puts him at an arm’s length away from France’s Wall Street. Therefore, it is doubtful that French politics will change much from Hollande’s administration.
Apart from hopefully subduing the growing anti-immigration sentiment in France, and implementing policies that will help students and the middle class grow, my prediction is that Macron’s presidency will – for better or for worse – maintain the strong French institutionalist environment that has governed the country since modern history.
Future of the EU
The future of the EU has been in question since the onset of the 2008 economic crisis. This was the first episode in which the world perceived a weakness in EU structure. Notably, since Brexit, the very future of the EU has been in question. However, with Macron’s win, it appears as though the Union may be in a stable state for at least the next several years.
After Macron’s victory, Martin Selmayr, chief of staff to the European Commission President, tweeted: “”Kick off: Felix Austria; Quarter-final: Stable Netherlands; Semi-final: La France en marche!” While taking a jab at past 2017 election outcomes in Europe, Selmayr highlighted a very important point: apart from Brexit, EU elections results this year have been pro-EU. Especially with the victory of Macron, the trend towards EU unification is growing stronger.
However, while the 60-year-old European integration project may not be in immediate jeopardy, the way in which the EU is run is inevitably going to change. Seeing as one of the EU superpowers is currently going through the Article 50 process of withdrawing from the EU, power structures will inevitable change at Brussels HQ. A two-tier EU system has been an idea thrown around for quite some time, and may now be in the phase of potential implementation. Indeed, a system where one tier would push towards closer political integration and a second tier would be restricted to participating in a single market system would potentially acquiesce the needs of both federalists and euro-skeptics.
This system does not, however, retract from the fact that Eurosceptic parties continue to press for political dystrophy. Federalists will have to remain steadfast in order to upkeep the strength of the EU.
All in all, Macron’s victory in the 2017 French Presidential elections has been celebrated across the Global North. His commitment to EU federalism and progressive policies has swept a nation that has been plagued by conservative rhetoric. However, apart from ensuring the short-term stability of the EU, his election may not bring about as many changes as should be expected. Rather, French institutionalism is far too strong and grounded in centuries of history that it won’t be broken by Macron. The right wing and the FN may also seek to strengthen their power over the next few years, through masterful political framing tactics. While, for now, France is in the clear, it may experience further tumultuous political waves in the near future.
By Elizabeth Radtke
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.