A new way to contain xenophobia?


France is in an unexpectedly lively pre-campaign atmosphere. The presidential elections will take place in two months' time, and interestingly, the left-right dichotomy is being severely challenged, probably, for the first time in the Fifth Republic's history.

Marine Le Pen and her bulldozer political stances seem to have secured a significant voting intentions percentage, totaling almost 25 percent. Despite the fact that she has been challenged by a number of malpractice investigations, not least for paying her bodyguard with European Parliament allocations, she plainly refuses to appear before the competent authorities. She declared peremptorily that she will not respond to any investigation demand until the presidential elections. Such a disdainful and patronizing attitude could have worked for Benito Mussolini in the 1930s, but it will be very hard indeed to swallow Madame Le Pen's attitude against the rule of law for France and for the European Union.

Le Pen is not the only one to suffer from malfeasance, the champion of the French Conservatives "Les Républicains," former premier François Fillon is indeed having a very hard time justifying the financial allocations his wife received from the public funds as his "assistant." He was poised to win the presidential elections in a landslide victory, in the second round against Le Pen probably, a few months ago, but now he is fighting for his political life and very likely ruining all the chances of the Conservative right winning the upcoming elections.

So who is going to win the elections: François Hollande decided months ago not to run for a second mandate, he would in all probability not have won. The Caucasus of the Socialist Party has seen the duel of two tenors, on the right side former premier Manuel Valls, and on the left side, former Minister Benoît Hamon. With a very left leaning program, Benoît Hamon has won the nomination. That was perhaps not such a good piece of news, because the left is already occupied by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is credited with having 10 percent of voting intentions in his favor. He is definitely capable of mustering the potential voters of the Communist Party and all the left-wing votes. The Green movement, traditionally divided and weak in France, has already given its support to Benoît Hamon. So we have two candidates, a very left wing Mélenchon and more moderately left-wing Hamon, who between them gather perhaps 20 percent of the voting intentions, perhaps a little bit more. So we have Marine Le Pen at 25 percent, Hamon nearly 11 percent, Mélenchon ten percent and Fillon around 20 percent. The addition amounts to two-thirds of the votes, so what are the intentions of the rest of the voters?

The surprise came with Emmanuel Macron, a rather low profile and sympathetic former minister, who decided not to look for the nomination of the Socialist Party and go it alone with a political movement he has structured for the elections and which is called "En Marche" (forward). He is definitely trying to combine the values of a liberal economist with the principles of a left-leaning progressive politician and has been, since the declaration of his independent candidacy, seen as a possible outsider (and why not?) as a potential surprise winner of these elections through the opinion polls.

As a matter of fact, what Macron is trying to do is revive the "center" in French politics, mostly moribund since the disappearance of the big Radical Party in the aftermath of the Second World War. To do so, he needs the support of centrist politicians, among them François Bayrou, the self-declared leader of the French "center." He obtained Bayrou's support without much trouble, to the amazement of political analysts. This move gives Macron, a very young (he is only 39, turning 40) former economy minister, a very clear and realistic chance to win the forthcoming presidential elections.

In a way, if Macron is elected president, he will repeat the unexpected achievement of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1974 (Macron was not born then) and very likely face the same challenges. Where Giscard has not been able to be heard, with 43 years of distance, Macron could achieve important deeds with a new way of governance and definitely a new political rhetoric.

Up until now, Macron has tried to be sympathetic to everyone, declaring the French war in Algeria before the independence a "crime against humanity." He has withdrawn a little after the outcry the declaration created, but this still shows the "third way" he has chosen, mostly represented by Justin Trudeau.

Liberal market orientations, social support systems and a "humane" approach to the tragedies of our time, mainly the immigrations and exiles. Could this be the best way to tackle mounting extreme-right movements? Seeking a very large consensus at the center, without demonizing the refugee or glorifying "international solidarity" at all costs, could be efficient. The French presidential elections will be very important in this sense.

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