French Presidential Contest: Candidates and their Manifestos

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Boris Kagarlitsky

In the countdown to the French electoral campaign, we would like to examine the major presidential candidates and their political platforms.

Essentially, the first round of voting on April 23 sees three parallel storylines unfolding.

The simplest and most obvious plot implies the “Marine Le Pen vs. the rest” formula. To a greater or lesser extent, everything is clear as day. As most pundits put it, Le Pen making it to the second round is foreordained. The question is how well she will perform at this stage of the contest.

To top it all off, the outcome of the second round largely depends on who she is going to face off with. Actually, the second plot, “conservative François Fillon vs. centrist Emmanuel Macron”, centers on the issue. Although the two candidates’ platforms differ little, they have completely opposite electoral styles dependent on their electoral base. Whereas Fillon is backed by more conservative and rural electors, Macron attracts more urbanized and young voters.

By contrast, the left-wing camp was not initially expected to become front-page news. At the same time, the extreme decay of the discredited Socialist party, which, to add insult to injury, had chosen Benoît Hamon, a totally toothless and faceless politician, as the party’s presidential candidate, offered bright prospects for his competitor, charismatic Jean-Luc Mélenchon supported by the Left Front.

Unsurprisingly, Mélenchon tapped into the opportunity by mounting a very vigorous and aggressive electoral campaign. With the Socialists experiencing persistently poor poll ratings, the third electoral scenario started to take shape. Will Mélenchon manage to beat Benoît Hamon, thus changing the left-wing landscape? Over a long period of time, France’s Communists, today’s core of the Left Front, were stronger than the Socialist movement. However, the Cold War ruined the former’s chances of coming to power.

By the early 1970s the situation had changed. The Socialists had gained traction, with the Communists taking a back seat to the French leftists. This was partly welcomed by the leadership of the French Communist Party itself, as from now on it could become part of a left-wing coalition capable of launching a bid for the Elysée Palace. That is precisely what happened under François Mitterrand when his efforts propelled the Socialist-led Union of the Left’s rise to power. However, the triumph of the leftist parties was followed by their decline as they repeatedly came to power only to pursue a right-wing liberal policy.

Angry intellectuals immediately saw that Mélenchon’s manifesto hardly differed from Le Pen’s platform. Unfortunately, such a program enjoys popular support and lives up to the expectations of workpeople.

Slashing protectionism and advancing free markets as part of European integration has been the cornerstone of the philosophy promoted by the left-wing establishment over the past two decades. Their policy has spelt the current disaster. Even its apparent failure did not actually impel them to modify their policies.

Trying to lace the liberal economic policy with hollow promises of wellbeing to beautify it, the liberal left is either sincerely unaware or pretend to be unaware of an obvious fact. Without root-and-branch change of economic conditions and rules, a protectionist policy for the local market, or a boost to the real sector and manufacturing, any social program degenerates into wishful thinking and good intentions, which are impossible to sustain financially or develop effectively.

The post-World War II dismantling of the social state and advanced forms of democracy were bound to the free-market policy. Similarly, the revival of the social state needs the protectionist policy as its sine qua non. The condition is vital, albeit insufficient.

To put it differently, the matter revolves around future incarnations of protectionist policies and particular vested interests that stand to profit rather than the need for protectionism as such. The left-wing economic policy requires control over the state’s foreign trade as a tool for social transformation and mobilizing resources for social development as well as support of the home market.


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