Given what a wild ride the French presidential campaign has been, it’s premature even only a couple of months from the vote to put too many chips on any horse. However, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard points out in a new column, Emmanuel Macron is taking a hard line on Brexit. It’s not clear that Macron will make it to the second round to face off against Marine Le Pen. Fillon took a hit due to scandals involving potentially illegal government payments to his wife and son. But Macron’s own goal has put Fillion back ahead of him. From Bloomberg:
Republican candidate Francois Fillon is back on track to qualify for the run-off in France’s presidential race, a poll showed on Tuesday, as a sweetened program of reforms and intensive campaigning on social media and across the country pay dividends.
Fillon leapfrogged independent front-runner Emmanuel Macron, gaining three percentage points to 21 percent, while Macron shed five points to 18.5 percent, according to the survey by Elabe for L’Express magazine….
Running for office for the first time in his career, Macron suffered his first significant misstep of the campaign last week, when he qualified French colonial rule in North Africa as a “crime against humanity.” Since then he’s taken the brunt of rivals’ attacks and was forced to apologize to French citizens who left Algeria when it gained independence in 1962.
Presumably polls next week will show how lasting the damage to Macron is. Marine Le Pen is continuing to gain, with the Elabe poll showing her getting 42% to 58% versus Fillion in a second round.
Nevertheless, Macron is a serious enough contender that he was able to secure a meeting with Theresa May in London. Evans-Pritchard quoted his “Franco-German” unity versus the UK in a Brexit negotiation. While this is accurate, I find it an odd way for Macron to have stated his views. The fact is that the EU, from the very day the Brexit vote was announced, has been unified in telling the UK what its major negotiating parameters are, and how they are consistent with both EU principles and existing agreements with other countries that are not in the EU, like Norway and Switzerland. As we’ve recounted long form, the UK continues to be astonishingly obtuse, with its politicians and press having convinced themselves that the British Isles are oh-so-special that the EU will be forced to relent.
In addition, even in the event of a Le Pen win, it is far from a given that she could deliver on her promise of having France depart the Eurozone. From the Spectator:
Consider the long-term consequences of the two-round voting system. Many British commentators — and indeed some in France — call periodically for a ‘French Thatcher’ to sweep away institutional barriers to economic dynamism….The British system not only can but regularly does give power to a united minority over a divided majority. Mrs Thatcher could carry out a peaceful revolution without ever having the clear support of a majority of voters. In a French-style system, she and her parliamentary supporters would inevitably have been defeated in second-round ballots by a combination of Labour and the Liberals: Jim Callaghan would have been triumphantly re-elected.
In short, precisely because of its turbulent political history, France has developed a series of barriers against radical change. A leading sociologist, Michel Crozier, described it in 1970 as a ‘société bloquée’ — a ‘stalemate society’. Of course, much in France does change: but the price of political stability is that certain fundamental rights and privileges remain untouched. Advantageous retirement rights and pensions. Certain influential professions. Farmers, sheltered by the Common Agricultural Policy. People in permanent employment, protected by laws penalising redundancy and limiting hours of work. The public sector — in French le service public, significantly in the singular — is the core of this system: schools, public hospitals, railways, universities, local government, the post office. All are arms of the state. Think of le service public as the NHS multiplied by five. The politics of its workforce, combining a real sense of public service with a jealous defence of rights and privileges, explains why France is the most anti-capitalist country in Europe….
A ‘French Thatcher’ — assuming that there is one, however diluted — faces not only the electoral barrier but a wider ideological polarisation than that of Britain in the 1980s. Then a large minority, even at times a majority, felt that something radical had to be done, and accepted that this included weakening the trade unions and increasing the freedom of the market. There is little sign that any such consensus exists in France, where both left and right are deeply suspicious of economic liberalism. Marine Le Pen thunders against free trade and ‘unfair’ competition. The very word ‘liberal’ has long been a political kiss of death: we shall see whether Macron is immune. So there is widespread dissatisfaction, but no accepted solution….
Nevertheless, few now rule out a Le Pen victory completely…If she did become president, France would face a genuine crisis, the worst for half a century. There would certainly be strikes and violent demonstrations by those who would see themselves as defending the republic against fascism. How she could form a viable government or win a majority in parliament is unclear. We would see a conflict between the Fifth Republic’s powerful president and its parliament under a constitutional system that one liberal critic has called dangerous even in the hands of a saint. The consequences for the euro, the EU, western security and Britain’s relations with one of its closest allies would be dire.
And from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:
The 39-year old centrist candidate and former economy minister warned that the EU’s four sacred freedoms of goods, services, capital, and people are indivisible, insisting that Britain will not be allowed to cherry pick parts of the arrangement.
The European Court must remain the supreme legal body with jurisdiction over Britain under any post-Brexit transition deal, a demand likely to raise hackles in the Conservative Party and endanger any accord…
Outside Downing Street, asked if he wanted banks to move to France after Brexit, Macron responded: “I will have a series of initiatives to get talented people in research and lots of fields working here to come to France … I want banks, talents, researchers, academics and so on…
French expatriates at the event at Central Westminster Hall on Monday night may seen him as the antidote to the soak-the-rich policies of his former boss, Mr Hollande, whose 75 per cent tax on millionaires Mr Macron himself derided as turning France into “Cuba without the sun”. The measure drove many to move o the UK…
Mr Macron has raised several million euros in campaign funds from dinners and invitation-only meetings with expatriates in London and other capitals at which guests are invited to contribute as much as €7,500 (£6,400) to support his candidacy.
Both Bloomberg and Evans-Pritchard pointed out that Macron is particularly vulnerable to the possible entry of François Bayrou, the mayor of the southern city of Pau. He ran for President in 2007 and 2012 and last time got 9.1% in the first round. Although he’d take votes from all candidates, Macron would suffer the worst. Bayrou is set to announce whether he’s in or not at 4:30 PM today. Stay tuned.