French Press (3) – A Coffee Drinker’s View On The French Presidential Election

(III) Evolution And Decomposition Of French Politics


The fact that there is no Republican candidate in the second round of the French presidential elections, coupled with the disintegration of the French socialists, underscores the fact that the French political landscape has undergone a seismic shift, for the first time in the long history of the Fifth republic. The majority of Republicans will most probably support Emmanuel Macron in the second round, some more enthusiastically than others. The main reason for their support, of course, is the threat of Marine Le Pen actually winning the presidential race. The moderate socialists have also advised their electorate to support Macron against Le Pen. But the situation will be radically different for the legislative (parliamentary) elections, which are to be held next June.  It is far from clear if this support will transform itself into an allegiance or a coalition, come June. That, in my view, is Macron’s biggest dilemma. But,that’s a problem for another day and, “chaque chose en son temps” (one thing at a time), as they say.

It is quite apparent that the French electorate must now make a choice, not between left and right-winged policies because these have disappeared. The choice is not only between Marine Le Pen’s nationalism and Emmanuel Macron’s progressivism, but also between two different visions for the way in which France will be run. The latter, unknown to many, will influence the very nature of the Fifth Republic. The vision portrayed by Marine Le Pen’s “Au nom du peuple” (in the name of the people) is one of a plebiscitary democracy, with all the risks associated with multiple referendums associated with proportional representation. In contrast, Emmanuel Macron’s vision is that of a consensus democracy, characterised by political allegiances and coalitions coming together for the perceived good of the country as a whole. Either way, the French will have to get used to these new forms of government. In the Netherlands, “consensus politics” has been around for a long time and, with the exception of a few difficult moments, has worked well. The Dutch system has shown that sharp political differences can be put to one side, and a consensus can be reached.

The fifth Republic, like its predecessors, came into being following a deep and bloody conflict. The French army, fighting in Algeria, fearing that it would be abandoned by the government in Paris, took over government control in Algeria and Corsica, in order to force the French government to negotiate the appointment of General Charles de Gaulle as head of state. In June 1958, the French government was dissolved, together with the French constitution. In September 1958, a referendum endorsed the Fifth Republic and Charles de Gaulle was elected its first president.

Today, the Fifth Republic must be able to adapt to the new political landscape. The traditional parties have so good as disappeared. New visions have appeared, together with new hope. It is wrong to say that voting for Emmanuel Macron is like voting for the old politics. Whilst it is true that he originates from the elite political system, he seems to have detached himself from it by forming his own progressive movement, “En avant”.

If Emmanuel Macron is elected on May 7th, it will be because the people of France have put their trust in him to be able to change things. If one looks closer at the results of the first round, it becomes apparent that just under 50% of the electorate has voted for change, away from the traditional (not to say elitist) politicians. France’s economic problems have not eased these last few years, as underscored by the latest unemployment figures. More than 23% of the under-25’s are out of work and, concerning long-term unemployment, France is trailing its European partners. If elected, Emmanuel Macron has to deliver out of fear that if he doesn’t, he may not get a second chance.