Our American friends often ask if Donald Trump’s election has any repercussions for the French Presidential election. We are inclined to say no, because the elections in each country are mainly internal matters, little influenced by what is going on outside. Still, the question is a bit more complicated, because we are seeing a slow and gradual increase in the influence of American politics on French politics.
Thus the main party on the right in France, originally Gaullist and Christian democrat, two years ago took the name “Republican,” a direct and open reference to the Republican party of the United States. Its candidate, François Fillon, appeals at once to social conservatism and to a market economy, which is exactly the American synthesis that the French Republican party intends to represent.
Another recent and significant borrowing from the American system is the use of primary elections to select a party’s candidate. It is notable that in France, as in the United States, primaries favor outsiders. The Republicans surprised themselves by choosing François Fillon over more establishment candidates such as Alain Juppé. This is what happened in the United States with the selection of Donald Trump.
Similarly, socialist militants nominated the relatively unknown Benoît Hamon, rather than their natural leader, in this case the outgoing Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Finally, the nationalist candidate, Marine Le Pen, despite coming from a very old French tradition that favors turning inward and closing borders, is happy to identify herself with Donald Trump; she sees in him a model, but this is not a decisive argument for voters.
We can see in this election a continuation of French anti-Americanism, but without its past excesses: the candidate of the extreme left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, derides American capitalism, but no longer with the cold war vocabulary of the 1960s.
The conservative candidate, François Fillon, and the nationalist candidate, Marine Le Pen, suggest a possible rapprochement with Russia’s Putin, but this is less from hostility towards the United States than in order to restore what they think should be France’s place midway between great powers rather than aligned with one of them; this is the old Gaullist tradition.
More generally, the candidates’ weak or non-existent anti-Americanism is evidence that French intellectuals in general are stepping back from their typical hostility towards the United States, capitalism and a consumer society. With the exception of Madame Le Pen, politicians are in the process of reconciling with what is called globalization in American colors.
Even before knowing the result, which remains very uncertain just a few dates from the voting, we are able to note certain prominent features of this campaign, including some that are unexpected. The most surprising is one that no one could have predicted three months ago, that is, the rise of the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.
Traditionally, as in the United States and elsewhere, the right confronts the left and the center is demolished, left to join one side or the other. This time it is the reverse that is happening. Macron, who is neither socialist nor conservative, is the possible winner. Like a magnet he draws out prominent figures on the left as well as on the right. His party (En Marche, Onward) is becoming France’s leading party by number of registered members. It is more Macron’s personality than his program that attracts voters, and especially his youth (39 years old) and his novelty. Many Frenchmen seek a renewal of the political class, which Macron promises. Suddenly, he is making all the other candidates and their parties seem old, including Madame Le Pen’s National Front. His total inexperience does not bother his supporters; on the contrary, many young people who ordinarily do not vote are now tempted by Macron.
Another lesson of this campaign, whatever its final result, is this: the collapse of the left. The left is divided between two rival and ferociously opposed candidates, the radical anti-capitalist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, an heir of the Jacobin revolution and of communism, and Benoît Hamon, a social-democrat with a libertarian side who stands out for his proposal to legalize marijuana, as in Colorado.
It is clear that the French left cannot manage to renew itself by taking a clear position along the lines of German, Swedish or British social-democracy. As for the National Front, one is tempted to say: nothing new here. French nationalism, with its anti-European, anti-immigration, anti-capitalist views goes back far into France’s history. Since it found a charismatic leader, initially Jean-Marie Le Pen and then his daughter Marine, it has attracted a fourth of the electorate, but no more. In a majoritarian system like French democracy, the National Front cannot win because, in the second round, it provokes an alliance of all the others against it in the name of what are called republican values. Still, the persistent power of the National Front demonstrates that a quarter of the French are not comfortable with a France that is modern and open to the world, which is a concern.
The ultimate form of the “Americanization” of French political life as revealed in this campaign is the personalization of voting. There is less attachment to programs, which are generally not believed, than to candidates. Who cares about Macron’s program, since he is 39 years of age? Who cares that Mélenchon’s program is a fantasy, since he is revolutionary. Why should it matter what Marine Le Pen proposes as long as she stands up against what she calls the Islamizing of France.
As for François Fillon, who seemed three months ago sure to win: his program, which is the most developed, has been forgotten since he and his wife were overcome by a financial scandal. It is unprecedented, incidentally, in any previous campaign, that the honesty of candidates be so scrupulously analyzed. In the past, the French concerned themselves little with corruption, but assumed that all politicians were more or less dishonest. Social networks, which love to seek out family secrets, have undoubtedly contributed to placing corruption and the candidates’ wealth at the center of debate. One big difference with the United States remains: the French are not ready to vote for a billionaire. While Donald Trump was always displaying his fortune, all French candidates explain that they are poor, or almost.
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*All times listed are GMT+2 (Paris time)
From Monday, April 17th to Friday, April 21st:
“64′, The World in French,” TV5MONDE’S French language international news program, will broadcast a series of portraits of French expatriates who have been actively following the presidential campaign.
Sunday, April 23rd and Sunday, May 7th
From 7:00 pm until midnight, TV5MONDE will broadcast the “Electoral Evening” of its partner channel, France 2. Polling organization representatives and political pundits will participate in a panel to comment on the results of the two rounds of the presidential election.
Wednesday, May 3rd – The Debate:
The debate between the two rounds of the election, co-organized by France 2 and TF1, will bring together the two qualified candidates for the second round Wednesday May 3rd at 11:10 pm* (Paris time, to be confirmed)*.
You can also catch France 2’s daily news updates on TV5MONDE.
Starting on Monday, April 3rd (and running from Monday to Friday, each week): Campaign news at 6:15 pm and 9:15 pm
Sunday, April 23rd and Sunday, May 7th from 10:00 pm to midnight:
Minute-by-minute updates on the French presidential elections, starting when the polling stations open, with Roselyne Febvre and Raphaël Kahane.
Tuesday: “Mardi Politique”
Wednesday: “Face à Face”
11:45 am (4 airings)
Saturdays at 10:10 pm:
Antoine Cormery presents several in-depth reports delving into issues revolving around the presidential election.
Sunday 4:10 am ; 12:10 pm
Monday 2:40 am ; 12:40 pm