Harry C. Blaney III
Last June and earlier this year I reported from London and Brussels on the issues, problems and trends of the critical issue of the unity of Europe and the fragility of also the Atlantic Community in the face of far right and Fascist forces. These corrosive forces would undermine and indeed destroy unity, democracy, and the key elements that have kept the peace, prosperity and democracy in Europe. The next great test for Europe will be the French final election between the two leaders of the first round election who will vie for the Presidential role on Sunday.
This Sunday election round will comprise first the moderate centrist (center-right) candidate who is without a traditional party Emmanuel Macron, who some polls show winning by about 20 percent. Against him is Marine Le Pen who’s party The National Front, has neo-Nazi origins and expresses deep hatred of immigrants and the EU. These two have left behind all of the candidates for the presidency of the traditional French parties after the result of the first round of voting.
Now in France however, these values are again threatened by the Neo-Fascist and racist National Front Party and by its leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. She threatened to, in effect, blow up Europe by getting out of the Euro Zone and perhaps even the EU and has attacked Germany who in the past has been the key partner on European unity and accused Chancellor Merkel as “dominating” Europe.
Le Pen has a close association with Russia’s Putin who is trying to undermine the unity of Europe and separate it from American cooperation. A Russian associated bank has loaned her far-right anti-Europe party money to help her campaign of hatred for immigrants, for liberal democracy, and really decency. As a indicator of her intentions and affinity to far right “disruptive” forces she has been praised by Donald Trump who also seems to want a disunited Europe (he supported Brexit and admires the British Alt-Right racist politician Nigel Farage, and clearly has an anti-EU perspective and questioned in the past NATO.
This election is so important to the unity of the West that former President Obama has made his views known via a video in support of Macron. Here is some of the text:
“The French election is very important to the future of France and the values that we care so much about,” … “Because the success of France matters to the entire world. … (Macron) has stood up for liberal values. He put forward a vision for the important role that France plays in Europe and around the world, and he is committed to a better future for the French people. He appeals to people’s hopes and not their fears. … Because of how important this election is, I also want you to know that I am supporting Emmanuel Macron to lead you forward. En Marche! Vive la France!”
There are many possible outcomes from this election given the fractured nature of the French political landscape. There is no assurance, despite the polls, that Macron will win since many do not want to declare their public support for a far-right xenophobic party. And Le Pen has campaigned with venom against Macron.
Sadly the left candidate who came in third did not endorse Macron. If Macron wins he must at some early point reconcile with enough members of parliament and the key parties to govern with some effectiveness and authority. The outcome could either set a direction of cooperation within Europe despite Brexit or the start of the dismantlement of European stable peace, security, and unity and cooperation with the full Western democracies. And also effective dealing with the underground anti-democracy activities of Putin and his gang of hackers and “false media”of the Russian “active intelligence.”
In contrast, center right and left traditional parties and others seeking responsible and decent goals could ensured if an alliance can be worked out with Macron, that there would be a strong voice in Europe for decency and cooperation around the world. Given in the West (and elsewhere) the disruptions of the last year or so and dysfunctional response of some governments to the needs of our citizens, with the rise of racial and national division, as well as moves towards in some cases hate filled political leaders, some united response by forces dedicated to democracy, justice, and true democracy is now required on both sides of the Atlantic.
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This weekend the first round of the French presidential election has taken place. Socialist Hollande came out first by just a bit but betting is he will win also by a bit in the second round. Already commentators are either crying he would be a “disaster” or just another reorder of the deck chairs.
The preceding elections in Europe, mostly of those states in financial difficulties, have seen the fall of the old ruling parties or leaders and their replacement with new leaders. This year will see additional national and regional elections or changes in governments. These major European elections will be a harbinger of political change in Europe with large potential for a reordering of the political and economic landscape in ways that are yet hard to predict.
In France, the current President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an Ipsos poll before the first round, was running behind the Socialist leader Francois Hollande by some 12% points. The gap was much smaller in the actual election. The sad part is that Sarkozy has only himself to blame as he has been tilting to the right – including nasty statements about “immigrants” and other efforts to gather supporters from the extreme right candidacy of racist Marine Le Pen of the National Front. He carried out the same tactics in his first statement after the election results. Le Pen’s forces came in third and the question remains: will we see a turn to the right and its anger coalescing into a viable long term negative political force?
Hollande, for his part, has also rightly criticized the counterproductive policies of Germany and France in pushing overly harsh austerity economic and financial programs in already hard hit states like Greece, Spain, Ireland, and Italy. He has called on the European Central Bank to support those states directly by buying their bonds and moving towards a policy of growth rather than the stupidity of the present austerity efforts which have only depressed the impacted economies as they implemented the killing depressive strictures forced on them by Merkel and Sarkozy and other “Austrian economic school” right wingers. There is, frankly, a lesson for the American economy and politics in this European struggle and its consequences.
But Hollande had competition on the far-left in Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Front, who has energized the left with his more populist vision and his passion. But he did not reach the second round on May 6th, and pundits are predicting his votes will largely go to Hollande in the second round. But Melenchon has galvanized the disenchanted and a fundamental anger of the unfairness of the present French system and society.
The more important question is whether the political changes that we are seeing in Europe are sufficient to change the downward equation which the blind policies of forced austerity have imposed and which have continued and sharpened the “Euro Crisis” because they have so far failed to rejuvenate the EU economy. None of these policies helped those who have been hurt by the excesses of the banks, the right-wing politicians pandering to their paymasters, and the indifference of so many of the rich and powerful to the social ills of their societies.
The other question must be whether there is an alignment of forces and of public support for an agenda which puts growth above austerity as a main but not only way of getting out of the present crisis. But beyond that is whether there is what I will call a “unifying critical mass of social and moral conscious’ that can propel forward not only a more just society but also institutionalize that consensus into effective long-term governance.
That achievement might bring not only a new and different EU, but spur a wider movement to reach out to address our global challenges more effectively and thereby create a more safe, humane, and healthy global environment. It might be nice for America to join such an effort if Americans have the wisdom to elect a president and congress which put balanced growth, fairness, security, and global responsibility in the forefront of its agenda.
By Harry C. Blaney III.