By Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker Blog
From 1792 to 1815 there were not one but seven “Coalition Wars” which involved most of Europe. It’s an era which should be properly termed the “7 European Wars Against the French Revolution”. Think the average European was thrilled about gutting their own economies – for 23 years! – in order to get involved in what was truly a civil war in a faraway land?
Even in England, the only nation which participated in every coalition fighting for counter-revolution, there were popular protests to finally end belligerence, and they occurred long before the start of France’s “Continental Blockade” against England’s intractable monarchists. Objections of unjust meddling in the sovereign affairs of another nation were even finally raised in England’s oligarchical parliament. It was all to no avail, because back then foreign policy was entirely decided in the royal courts of Europe. War went on, regardless of popular objections.
It’s not any different today.
The West still goes to war despite public opinion because the process is still dominated by the choices of the elite.
So it’s quite in line with historical trends: In 2022 the average European is being told to gut their economy for years in order to sanction Russia over the unrest in Ukraine, and of course there is no vote on this warmongering foreign policy. Europe’s leaders – usually working with the approval of actual royals – blithely tell their subjects to let them wear sweaters if heat has become too expensive.
Foreign policy is something which Western democracy has no tools with which to bring it under the aegis of the people. It relies on politicians which are willing to cede to public opinion. If that makes Europeans shudder, it should: The European Union is infamous for its constant disregarding of public opinion. Indeed, this is the primary political leitmotif since the Great Recession began.
Thus the upcoming 2nd round vote in France is so historically rare and valuable in that voters know if they pick one side war will continue – as sanctions (blockade) are an act of war – and if they pick another then war is likely to be averted.
Poll show the Macron-Le Pen race is a dead heat all of a sudden. It has surged from irrelevance to importance so quickly that major historical trends and institutions may topple so quickly that the royal courts of today cannot act quickly enough to stop it.
I believe the decisions French voters will make will come down to this: After a Great Recession, and an Era of Austerity, and the Yellow Vest Civil War era, and the Coronavirus Era… do you want a Russian Sanctions Era to gut – mentally, socially and economically – your already gutted standard of living?
It’s not just voting with your pocketbook and your national passport – it’s also voting with unprecedented foreign policy heft.
Macron on Ukraine – the straw that breaks the French voter’s back
Le Pen has opposed sanctions on Russia since 2014. She knows that those sanctions have had very tough effects on French farmers.
Given the war hysteria she has no choice but to be in favor of some sanctions on Russia but she’s emphatic that they cannot include energy, and that includes coal, because of the impact it will have on French households. Last month in European Parliament she was one of the few dissenting votes on a resolution which called for a “total and immediate” embargo on all Russian energy imports.
“The only thing I don’t want is sanctions on raw materials which will have heavy consequences on the French and on the rest of the world, ” she said.
Throughout the campaign she’s accused the other candidates of not caring about the effect of sanctions on the average person, and these accusations will only grow louder when pointed solely at Macron.
“I do not want the French to commit hara-kiri on the grounds of sanctions decided by our leaders and which would not relate to the daily life of our compatriots,” she said in mid-March.
Last week she went much further:
“We have another choice. In reality, all the sanctions that have been put on the table and decided today are sanctions that have been designed to protect the interests of the financial markets and the real war profiteers,” she said. “All these sanctions are hitting our companies and individuals.”
What Ukraine has done is to drastically redefine Le Pen’s “M la France” 2022 slogan (M – aime – la France, get it?): it’s gone from being one of national identity to household solvency, and while still retaining the “national sovereignty” theme of 2017.
Frankly, it’s incredible: the European Union just can’t help but make sovereignty – either national or popular – the underlying issue of France’s elections. In 2012 Francois Hollande was going to end Germanic-imposed austerity, and in 2017 Le Pen was going to hold a Frexit vote within 6 months of her victory. “This election is also a referendum on Europe”, recently said Emmanuel Macron, because the EU is so unworkable and so resented that its existence is constantly called into question.
Le Pen has abandoned her 2017 Frexit vote stance even though recent polls showed 2 out of 3 French people were favourable to holding a vote on Frexit. It’s just too easy to caricature.
But as I wrote – ‘Remaining in the EU means peace’ – Ukraine explodes that Bourgeois Bloc idea. Endless Russia sanctions over Ukraine has discredited this Europhile bloc which is the base of Macron – they can afford to pay the knock-on inflation effects of years of Russia sanctions but the average voter cannot.
In a France which has had a series of chaotic eras I predict the threat of Ukraine spillover will primarily drive French voters. It’s a need for protection, and Le Pen is playing to exactly this need: “My obsession is to protect the French. I don’t want them to lose their jobs, to find themselves unable to heat their homes, feed themselves or drive to work.”
I had hoped that the French would realise Macron simply has to go: based on his record he should be totally discredited. If one has any respect for democracy they’d elect a ham sandwich before they’d re-elect Macron. I had hoped that French voters would realise that the arguments of 2017 were kaput: Macron proved to be more authoritarian than Le Pen could ever get away with, and almost as xenophobic. Ukraine has not replaced these ideas – it will hopefully be the coup de grâce which brings down lofty, arrogant, autocratic Macron.
It’s certainly not 2017 for 5 reasons:
- Macron is now the “mainstream”: In the 2017 second round this was the primary reason Macron’s voters said they voted for him – to sweep out the corrupt mainstream. The second reason was to block Le Pen, and the third reason (24%) was Macron’s actual policies and personality. We see from the first round vote total that he has barely been able to persuade anyone to his side. This is because:
- Macron has a record now: He’s not the neophyte Rothschild banker on whom you could project your unrealistic hopes. It’s an awful record, too: neoliberalism, authoritarian repression, autocratic style of governance, setting the record for ministers ousted for corruption just halfway into his term. This means that:
- Nobody will be duped by his “centrism”: This is something I warned of constantly in 2017. His neoliberalism implied far-right economics and a far-right style of governance, and it turns out he was even more willing to legalise Islamophobia than his two predecessors. The absurd and failed Trump- and Brexit-style PFAXIsm (Popular Front Against Xenophobia but for Imperialism) which was based on Macron’s alleged centrism simply will not work as effectively as it did in 2017. What’s more, people do not fear the alleged political extremes because:
- The Trump effect – he showed who the real extremists are: In France’s 2017 election Trump had only been in office for less than four months. Fear-mongering that dangerous politicians were going to start World War III was rife, and this had a major effect on the French voter back then. Five years later we know that if World War III is going to be started it’s by mainstream politicians and in:
- Ukraine: Want years of energy-caused penury? Want war to possibly spread to French borders? Then vote Macron. It’s not something he can hide from at all. Expect him to deflect and deflect on this issue until the debate, which is truly when the election will be decided.
The difference between Trump and Le Pen, so far, is this: Trump actually wanted it. After their debate in 2017 I wrote Le Pen clowns at debate instead of taking anti-austerity seriously because her behavior made it clear she didn’t care if she lost or won. Trump clowned mainly after taking office – he never stepped up and took on the Deep State – but he was a true competitor, at least.
Le Pen is learning from the failure of the now-retired leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who ran 3rd: she is courting the Yellow Vests, promising to install “RICs”, or citizen-initiated referendums. This was a top-3 demand of the Yellow Vests, and even the most important demand for some. I think many have put way to much emphasis on this – Switzerland has it and it’s hardly a democratic game-changer – but it will sway many Vesters to join her.
And joining Le Pen is something they do not want to do: The Yellow Vest program was the most similar to Melenchon’s, and the second candidate I heard them talk about the most was the (pseudo-) outsider Eric Zemmour. They are not Le Pen fans at all. People who haven’t set their boots in France for a long time may not realise that not only is Le Pen viewed by many as “mainstream” but that there is also a huge antipathy to the National Front in general.
If old people are voting for Macron in 2022 it’s because of this longstanding antipathy. Back when he expected an easy victory Macron gallingly and arrogantly promised to raise the retirement age to 65 this fall – he’s backtracking now, but this could prove to have been a fatal mistake.
The Yellow Vests emphatically reject Le Pen, but what can you do? Macron and Le Pen are the choices, and Macron has proven that he refuses to govern by consensus and only by autocracy.
The only alternatives are abstention (expected to be the highest since 2002, and around 30%), or a blank/spoiled ballot (expected to be a record, around 15%). Add the numbers – the true turnout will thus be around 55%.
Assuming every one of Macron’s 27.8% of first round voters turns out, that leaves 27.2% – it’s a dead heat, but all the trends clearly favor Le Pen. I crunched the numbers: she’ll gain a few hundred thousand more votes than Macron from those who voted for a losing first round candidate. It’s a dead heat there too.
Le Pen said at her first post-first round press conference: “By ferociously repressing popular protest movements like the Yellow Vests or social movements like the demonstrations against pension reform, Emmanuel Macron has installed the idea that nothing can be debatable, amendable, reformable.”
If you can quote the rules you can follow them – Le Pen is thus the “hope” candidate. Contrarily, a Yellow Vest at Macron’s campaign HQ (where I reported from on the night of Round 1) would have been immediately arrested.
These issues within French domestic politics have not become secondary to Ukraine – Ukraine has simply added to Macron’s obvious lack of democratic and patriotic bonafides.
The West can’t have both – war in Ukraine and Macron re-elected.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. His new book is ‘France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s Best Values’. He is also the author of ‘ Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’ as well as ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’, which is also available in simplified and traditional Chinese.