by Pepe Escobar for the Asia Times

Here’s the body count in the latest geopolitical earthquake afflicting the West: The Socialist Party in France is dead. The traditional Right is comatose. What used to be the Extreme Left is alive, and still kicking.

Yet what’s supposed to be the shock of the new is not exactly a shock. The more things veer towards change (we can believe in), the more they stay the same. Enter the new normal: the recycled “system” – as in Emmanuel Macron — versus “the people” — as in the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, battling for the French presidency on May 7.

Although that was the expected outcome, it’s still significant. Le Pen, re-christened “Marine”, reached the second round of voting despite a mediocre campaign.

She essentially reassembled — but did not expand — her voting base. I have argued on Asia Times that Macron is nothing but an artificial product, a meticulously packaged hologram designed to sell an illusion.

Only the terminally naïve may believe Macron incarnates change when he’s the candidate of the EU, NATO, the financial markets, the Clinton-Obama machine, the French establishment, assorted business oligarchs and the top six French media groups.

As for the stupidity of the Blairite Left, it’s now in a class by itself.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the domesticated hard-left of Insubordinate France, managed to equal the Catholic Right François Fillon in the final stretch. Yet the vapid PS candidate, Benoit Hamon, stole Mélenchon’s shot at hitting the second round.

As for Marine, she lost almost four points in the final tally. With one extra week of campaigning Fillon, despite Penelopegate, could have been equal with Marine.

Marine has only one extremely long shot on May 7. She will be frantically touring “deep France” to turn the second round into a debate on French identity and a clash of nationalists, patriots and sovereignists against pro-EU globalists and urban “liquid modernity” practitioners.

So what do they want?

Frontists are ready to rip Emmanuel Clinton’s neoliberal program to pieces, which will play very well in rural France and may even yield a few disgruntled Mélenchon votes.

Unlike Fillon and Hamon, he has not gone public calling his supporters to vote Macron. Disgruntled Fillon voters may also be inclined to switch to Marine — considering Fillon was viscerally opposed to someone he described as “Emmanuel Hollande.”

A quick look at the promises is in order. In a nutshell; Marine proffers a social model that “favors the French people;” Macron offers vague, “profound reforms.”

Macron’s plan to save 60 billion euros of public funds implies firing 120,000 functionaries; that is a certified recipe to a “see you in the barricades” scenario.

Marine only says she wants to reduce the public deficit — aiming at reducing state medical aid, the French contribution to the EU, and fiscal fraud.

Neither wants to raise the minimum wage and VAT. Both want to reduce the tax burden on companies and both want to fight the “Uberization” of work, favoring French companies (Marine) and European companies (Macron).

Marine’s absolute priority is to reduce social aid to foreigners and restitute “buying power” especially to pensioners and low-income workers. She’s vague about unemployment.

Macron’s “profound reforms” are centered on unemployment insurance and pensions. He’s keen on a universal unemployment protection managed by the state. Everyone would be covered, including in the case of being fired. Marine and Macron coincide on one point; better reimbursement of costly health benefits.

Europe is at the heart of the Marine vs Macron fight; that’s Frexit against a “new European project.”

Everyone in Brussels “voted” Macron  as he proposes a budget for the eurozone, a dedicated Parliament, and a dedicated Minister of Finance. In short; Brussels on steroids.

Marine’s Frexit should be decided via a referendum — a direct consequence of the frontist obsession with immigration. Marine wants to reduce legal admission of immigrants to 10,000 people a year (it’s currently 200,000), tax employment of foreign workers, and suppress social aid. In contrast, pro-immigration Macron aims at what he calls an open France, “faithful to its values.”

On foreign policy, it’s all about Russia. Marine wants a “strategic realignment” with Moscow especially to fight Salafi-jihadi terror.

Macron — reflecting a French establishment as Russophobic as in the US — is against it, although he concedes that Europe must come to terms with Russia even as he defends the current sanctions.

About that Wall of Cash

If the coming, epic clash could be defined by just one issue that would be the unlimited power of the Wall of Cash.

Macron subscribes to the view that public debt and expenses on public service are the only factors responsible for French debt, so one must have “political courage” to promote reforms.

Sociologist Benjamin Lemoine is one of the few who’s publicly debating what’s really behind it — the interest of financiers to preserve the value of the debt they hold and their aversion to any negotiation.

Because they control the narrative, they are able to equate “political risk” —  be it Marine or Mélenchon — with the risk to their own privileged positions.

The real issue at stake in France — and across most of the West — revolves around the conflicting interests of financial masters and citizens attached to public service and social justice.

The coming clash between Emmanuel Clinton and Marine LeTrump won’t even begin to scratch the surface.

The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world