A fortnight, it would seem, to save French democracy, a functioning European Union and a united western front against Russian neo-imperialism. No pressure, then Emmanuel.
Cool as the president of the French Republic is, in every sense, he cannot view this result as much of a victory. If between 27 and 29 per cent of the vote counts as a good result, then that tells us much about the unhealthy state of French democracy.
France, post-Brexit and post-Merkel has assumed the political leadership of Europe, if only by default. The prospect of President Le Pen is thus a mortal threat to the stability of the continent and the shared liberal values of the west. We will have a neo-fascist running the second or third largest economy in Europe, a nuclear power and with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
Pre-Ukraine, don’t forget, Le Pen was keen on a partnership with Putin. Lately she had to pulp her election manifesto de ella that featured a chummy photograph of her de ella with the president of Russia, but only out of sheer embarrassment.
The constitution General de Gaulle designed and consolidated between 1958 and 1962 gave the president formidable powers, including the option to bypass parliament and appeal to the country through referendums in certain circumstances – as Marine Le Pen wishes to on immigration, and no doubt much else. The French constitution has in-built safeguards and checks, and Le Pen is unlikely to win a parliamentary majority later this year, but, as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have proven, a determined leader can push their powers to the limit and beyond, whatever the complexion of the legislature. No one should underestimate the dangers of a Le Pen presidency.
Not the least of Macron’s problems is that his fate is not entirely in his hands. For a British audience, mixing things up a bit, the next round of the French elections is like a presidential contest between Tony Blair (Macron) and Nigel Farage (Le Pen) with Jeremy Corbyn – here represented by the leftist equivalent Jean-Luc Melenchon – just knocked out after coming to a respectable third.
The next stage of the Macron campaign has got off to a bad start. Melenchon was defiant in defeat and immediately gave an order to his followers of him – do not give a single vote for Le Pen. Yet he did not urge them to hold their noses and vote for Macron. Like Blair, Macron’s centrist, globalist, pro-European sympathies are so offensive to the hard left that Melenchon, now what passes for the leader of France’s fragmented left, could not bring himself to fully back the only person who stand between France and a something akin to a neo-Petainist regime. It is breathtaking in its nihilism.
If President Le Pen ever does become a reality, we will know where to land much of the blame. The French left used to believe in a popular front against fascism. No longer, it seems.
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Paradoxically, the most hopeful aspect of the first-round vote is the turnout, which, at 73.5 per cent, is fairly low by historical standards. Such has been the success of Ella Le Pen’s effort to make her movement mainstream that it enjoys some of its strongest support among the young, surprisingly – but the good news is that they are also traditionally less likely to vote.
Despite the youthful image of En Marche!, its core support is among the over 60s, and they are usually more likely to turn up and cast a ballot. It is this generation who will save the French Republic, and indeed the European Union. It is in stark contrast to Britain, for example, where pro-Brexit populism that helped deliver Brexit and Boris Johnson’s majority in parliament was concentrated among those for whom the British Empire is within living memory.
The older generation across the channel have lived through some traumatic times for France since the war, and they know that, whatever else, a hazy fascist manifesto isn’t the answer to France’s problems. Macron should probably retain the presidency, and the populist right will be denied their revolution. But the mood is sulphurous, and Melenchon’s curious complacency about neo-fascism certainly isn’t helping defend the Fifth Republic.