French presidential candidates Le Pen and Macron: Worlds apart or feuding neighbors?
A woman walks past presidential campaign posters of French President and centrist candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron and French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in Anglet, southwestern France, Saturday, April 16, 2022. France will vote on Sunday April 24 in the second round of the presidential election, but some voters are having trouble telling the two finalists apart. | Bob Edme / AP

PARIS—The polling numbers are close in this final week of the French election, with the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen running just behind the supposed defender of the values of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron. Much is made in the press about the distinction between the two, but unfortunately what is also apparent is that the distance is shrinking as the neoliberal Macron shifts further to the right while this week attempting to show he is really a “man of the people” after having spent the campaign proposing proposition after proposition to benefit the wealthy.

Le Pen, meanwhile, has attempted to keep the focus solidly on the French “pourvoir d’achat,” power of buying or cost of living, accusing Macron of both contributing to inflation and oblivious to its effects. Macron has presented himself as above the fray of the steadily lowered standard of living of workers, rural French, and those on the periphery of the wealthier cities.

Le Pen says she wants to keep the retirement age at 62, whereas Macron wants to raise it to 65, and she wants to lower the VAT tax on the rising price of fuel and provide a fund for essential commodity purchase for those at the bottom. These “concerns” that she talks up on the campaign trail, however, are not matched by her overall economic positions, which align her even more rigidly than Macron with French corporate interests.

The situation in the country is perilous. In the middle, small businesses are collapsing, with 35% more bankruptcies and 107,000 bankruptcy procedures instituted. At the top, France’s lead auto exec, the head of the now merged Pugeot and Fiat-Chrysler, was revealed to have earned €66 million in 2021. It’s a figure so outrageous that even Macron, who is desperately searching to convince the 73% of the French electorate that believes he does not understand the problems of the ordinary people, urged there be a ceiling on executive salaries, not in France, but across Europe.

How did France get to this state? A minor reason is the normalization of the far right, with Le Pen no longer portrayed in the media as the devil but rather as “a woman free and simple,” happy at home with her cats.

Also important has been the collapse of the left, especially in the first round when it became apparent that the three standard-bearer parties—the Greens, the Socialists, and the Communists—together were going to poll under 10%. So rather than, at the end of the campaign, shifting their allegiance to the top left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, they persisted in pushing their own separate campaigns, with one party going so far as to call the vote for it a “useful vote.” Had they swung their votes, it is extremely possible this round would have been a left/right battle of Mélenchon/Macron, with Le Pen eliminated.

The primary reason for the rise of the far right, though, is Macron’s policies. He was accused when he finally took to the campaign trail this week of being “the candidate of the 1%.” He has championed job creation, but neglects to point out that by making it easier to hire and fire, a main “reform” of his term, he has increased precarity and lowered wages. He has promised to lower taxes on businesses by €7.5 billion and effected budget cuts throughout the system, so that, for example, infant deaths from harmful foods have increased because of the lack of officials who can verify the products are safe.

As part of this “attempt to destroy the French social model,” as one critic put it, the French government under Macron has farmed work out to consultant companies, including the U.S. McKinsey company, which is now charged with paying no taxes on its earnings in France for ten years. Le Pen calls her opponent “Emmanuel Macron McKinsey.”

As a result of a move to the right by Macron, presenting himself five years ago as “neither left nor right,” he is sometimes at pains to distinguish himself from Le Pen. On a very dangerous Trump-like issue, Le Pen wants, in the guise of “returning money” to the people, to eliminate the €138 tax the French pay to support public radio and television, the crown jewel of European public media and an often-harsh critic of Le Pen. Le Pen then wants to sell off French public media. Macron, though, has indicated he is also in favor of cancelling the contribution while not going so far as to suggest privatizing the media, but with little public funding, that would be a possible next step.

The widespread voter dissatisfaction with established candidates resulted in an abstention rate of 26%. One poll suggests abstention could increase by almost 20% in this upcoming round, which one student at a Sorbonne rally after the first round termed “reactionary blackmail.” Another announcing about the Macron/Le Pen contest: “I don’t want five years of unbridled liberalism or authoritarian nationalism.”

Le Pen’s reactionary immigration and discriminatory policies against minorities will make life unendurable for those populations and could unleash a wave of hatred and violence in the streets, a la Trump. For that reason, especially, potentially cooler heads will likely prevail in the voting, and the far right will be beaten back one more time, but this time by a much smaller margin than ever before.

As economic hardships worsen for the majority though under Macron’s next five years, without a collective coming together of the left, the country will probably move perilously closer to the far-right alternative. A more desperate neoliberalism, led by “the president of the rich,” will grasp at any straw to hold onto its profits, including accommodating to the most odious elements of society.


CONTRIBUTOR

Dennis Broe
Dennis Broe

Dennis Broe’s latest book is Diary of a Digital Plague Year: Coronavirus, Serial TV and the Rise of the Streaming Services. He has taught at the Sorbonne and is currently teaching in the Master’s Program at the École Supérieure de Journalisme. He is an arts critic and correspondent for the British daily Morning Star and for Crime Time, People’s World and Culture Matters, where he is an associate editor. Dennis Broe is the author of The Precinct with the Golden Arm, the upcoming third volume in the Harry Palmer mystery trilogy whose subject is the LAPD, the pharmaceutical industry and Mexican culture in L.A.

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