Richard Waghorne, Daily Mail (London), April 20, 2012
France’s politics would appear to be in deceptively rude health. As Sunday’s first stage of the country’s two-round presidential election approaches, the vital indicators return vivid signs of life.
Mass meetings in Paris and elsewhere have drawn numbers and passion hard to imagine in some parts of an exhausted Western Europe. Online politics has made an impact for the first time. There is a choice on the ballot paper of ten candidates, ranging as fully from right to left as from plausible to eccentric.
France’s rarely quiescent intellectuals have offered their customary profusion of commentary on the country’s choices.
What France has not confronted honestly is the likelihood that this is the final French election for some time in which the country will vote on its future with an acceptable degree of control over its own destiny. The erosion of French self-government has been commissioned from within and awaits to be ratified from without.
Nicholas Sarkozy has campaigned on the theme of a ‘Strong France’. His speeches consciously allude to the Fifth Republic’s founder General de Gaulle, praising an ‘Eternal France’ Sarkozy himself has never been in danger of embodying. Rather, he is the latest architect of the decline of French democracy to something bordering on irrelevance.
The most urgent, the most assiduously avoided challenge facing France is the erosion of its self-government. Sarkozy’s European policy has abetted the long-desired European federalism of the French political class, through means of government by decree from Brussels and the outright replacement of recalcitrant governments in Greece and Italy.
In other European countries, the surface pretence of politics as usual has only been perpetuated by the craven compliance of hostage governments, as in Ireland. The fundamental deceit is that France herself is immune from the consequences of her president’s betrayal of other ancient European nations.
As the election campaign has demonstrated, this is not so to any extent which would return decisions over economic matters and identity to the French people. France’s banking system is critically exposed to the debts of the delinquent European margins, confirmed in Sarkozy’s last year in office by the trauma of a sovereign downgrade in a country where banks hold a status akin to proxies of the State. This very central standing in French public life, with its implicit expectation of support in crisis, was not enough to convince ratings-agencies of their durability – precisely because it is in question whether the French State possesses the capacity to deliver such support if required.
Although it is unlikely that this will come to pass, should Sarkozy secure re-election he would in all probability find himself faced with the appalling question of whether France herself could survive the humiliation of direction from Berlin and Brussels in the threatened eventuality of Spanish or Italian default.
Much as Friedrich Hayek caustically referred to ‘socialists of all parties’ in the age of British muddy centrism shared between Labour and the Conservatives before the rise of Margaret Thatcher, one might see the choice of leading candidates in France as that between Eurofederalists of various parties. Neither Nicholas Sarkozy nor the likely victor Socialist François Hollande differ in their deference to ever-closer union. Much of their respective programmes must accordingly be discounted entirely as the outlines of an agenda they would never give themselves the liberty to execute.
The insurgent hard-left challenger Jean-Luc Mélenchon numbers the old French Communist Party within his alliance, calls for revolution in Europe, and speaks to supporters who bring Soviet flags to his rallies. The only other candidates polling in double figures, save one, is the centrist François Bayrou who combines many of his opponents’ defects with few redeeming virtues of his own.
In present circumstances, given present choices, the only responsible vote in France next Sunday is a vote for Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front. This requires to be immediately qualified in several important respects:
Le Pen’s protectionist economic policies are both foolish and futile. Her campaign has often been poor and indistinct. This is particularly culpable during a European crisis which ought to have given her party an opportunity unparalleled since inception and suggests serious limits in her own capabilities.
Her efforts to regulate the political instincts of her party mitigate without cancelling out present reminders of its unacceptable past, most notable among which are her vocal and hot-headed father Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Her stalwart defence of France’s right to perpetuate its national identity has forced Nicholas Sarkozy to give the issue a seriousness of attention he failed to grant it while office, but has sometimes been made by appeal to the lower instincts of the French electorate rather than the higher.
Marine Le Pen remains, among an imperfect choice in urgent times, the only candidate capable of saving France’s control over her finances, borders, and identity.
She is the only candidate available to conservative voters advancing the case for an exit from the Euro, the one measure which if executed carefully might yet save France from being swamped by foreign debts amassed elsewhere in a European project largely of its own making.
While Nicholas Sarkozy raises the prospect of securing French borders through withdrawal from the Schengen area, she possesses the requisite disdain for European entanglements which he all too comprehensively does not. Her defence of French national identity in the country with Europe’s most numerous Muslim minority is credible, whereas Sarkozy’s betrays his increasingly impotent opportunism.
France next elects a president to the Élysée Palace in 2017. The most urgent question in this election ought to have been whether the next will matter much. There is no good reason as things stand to believe that France will escape the impotent slide into the morass of multiculturalism and bankrupt late European social democracy.