«Centrist» candidate Emmanuel Macron was no sooner announced winner in the first round of the French presidential election at the weekend, and with unseemly haste the political establishment rushed to close ranks against rival Marine Le Pen of the Front National.
Macron topped the poll in the first round winning 23.8 per cent of the vote. Le Pen came in second place with 21.5 per cent. Both candidates will now proceed to face off in the second round, to be held on May 7, with the other nine candidates having been eliminated.
The FN leader is entitled to call her electoral performance a «historic» achievement. It was the best result for the nationalist party in the French presidential elections since its foundation in 1972. But while her supporters were celebrating a landmark victory, the French establishment was desperately pulling up the drawbridge. Slings, arrows and boiling oil are being readied to make sure Le Pen is kept at bay from the seat of power.
Le Pen, who took over the party leadership in 2011 from her father Jean-Marie, has taken the FN from «fringe» status to now being a major mainstream political force, within a shot of winning the presidency of the French Republic.
But it is unlikely that Marine Le Pen will become Madame President – at least in the 2017 cycle. Her rival Macron is already receiving fulsome endorsements from the erstwhile two main parties, the center-right Republicans and the incumbent Socialists. Both parties suffered painful defeats at the weekend, the first time in 60 years than neither of them have a candidate going forward to the second round.
Republican candidate Francois Fillon, who won 19.9 per cent of the vote, immediately gave his endorsement to Macron, telling his supporters that Le Pen would be a «disaster» for the country. Socialist contender, Benoit Hamon, whose electoral performance crashed to scraping only 6.5 per cent of the vote, was even more vehement in endorsing Macron. In his defeat-acceptance speech, Hamon called on his supporters to get behind Macron because Le Pen was «an enemy of the state».
The so-called «hard left» candidate Jean-Luc Melénchon, of the France Unbowed party, came in fourth with a respectable vote of 19.6 per cent, narrowly behind Fillon. Considering that Melénchon was campaigning on a staunch socialist manifesto and that his party was only recently formed, it was a commendable result for the veteran left-winger. He can claim to have secured the mantle of the «genuine left» in France, and going forward has a strong base upon which to build a new socialist party. For that reason, Melénchon refused to endorse either Macron or Le Pen for the second round. To his credit, he is not selling out on political principles.
The final head-to-head election next month is shaping up to be a repeat of the 2002 presidential contest, when Marine’s father Jean-Marie caused a political shock when he made it through to second round back then. Similar to that occasion, as now, the establishment rallied to support Jacques Chirac, of the center-right UMP (forerunner of the present-day Republicans). In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen was trounced, winning only 18 per cent of the final vote, against Chirac’s nearly 80 per cent.
As before, the same maneuver of mounting the ramparts against Marine Le Pen is underway. Macron will consolidate voters from Fillon’s Republicans and Hamon’s Socialists, and he is projected to win up to 60 per cent of the final tally against Marine Le Pen.
In terms of votes, Le Pen’s FN has evolved to become an undoubted central political force in French politics. At the weekend, she garnered some 7.6 million, less than one million behind Macron, and well ahead of the other contenders. Her party’s performance exceeded that of its previous best in the 2015 municipal elections when the FN won 6.6 million votes.
Nevertheless, Le Pen’s FN is still tainted with its original association with fascism, racism and anti-semitism. Le Pen says that mainstream media labelling of her party as «far-right» is a smear. She prefers to call the FN «nationalist».
To a large extent, the 48-year-old lawyer has managed to «detoxify» the image of the party and has positioned it as a populist movement that stands against global capitalism and the European Union’s servility to corporate finance. Le Pen is campaigning on left-leaning economic policies of «social protection» and taking France out of the EU, in the same manner as the Brexit for Britain. She also wants to quit the US-led NATO military alliance and is openly calling for friendly relations with Russia. The FN aims to restore national control over French borders and implement big cuts in immigration numbers. Her strident denunciation of «Islamization» of French culture has earned her criticism of being xenophobic.
However, to label Le Pen and the FN as «an enemy of the state» seems to be an hysterical caricature. The suspicion is that it is her party’s policies of opposing global capitalism, the EU and NATO which is the real source of establishment animus, which is concealed by hollow accusations of «racism, xenophobia and fascism» and «enemy of the state».
It is notable that EU leaders also joined with French establishment figures in rushing to endorse Macron at the weekend. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded quickly to congratulate him on winning first place in the initial presidential round. With two weeks to go until the second and final round, those public comments from EU leaders seem to be a flagrant interference in the French election. Nonetheless, they underscore the urgency for the political establishment within France and across Europe to keep Le Pen from entering the Élysée Palace on May 7.
As for Macron, the branding of the «centrist» politician has the unmistakeable air of slick marketing by the powers-that-be. Of course, being avidly pro-EU, pro-NATO and frosty towards Russian leader Vladimir Putin makes Macron a keen favorite in the eyes of the status quo.
The 39-year-old Macron claims that, politically, he is «neither right nor left» and the mainstream media have glowingly dubbed him a fresh-faced «outsider». Corny comparisons are made to John F Kennedy, Tony Blair and Barack Obama. There is a palpable sense that Macron’s image is being intensely manufactured as the golden boy of politics who, it is advertised, will bring «hope and change» for everyone.
Only in a crass, superficial sense could Macron be described as «an outsider» who is forging a «new politics». It is true that he has never served in elected office. And he formed his political party, En Marche, (Forward) only a year ago.
But everything else about Macron is deeply establishment and status quo. With an elite education, he worked as a former Rothschild investment banker on a multi-million-euro income, before being appointed by Socialist President Francois Hollande as economy minister four years ago. In that post, he was the architect of the widely hated pro-business labor «reforms» (hire-and-fire), which the Hollande government forced into law last year by decree, despite massive public protests.
Macron cleverly stepped down from his ministerial post in anticipation of entering the presidential elections, and thereby gave himself a modicum of distance from the despised governing Socialists. The latter, by the way, is really a misnomer, as Hollande’s government (2012-2017) served as ardent proponents of neoliberal capitalism in the service of global finance. That is partly the reason why Hollande’s would-be successor Benoit Hamon received such a drubbing in the latest poll, while Jean-Luc Melénchon of the Communist-backed France Unbowed emerged with respectable support.
So, Macron is certainly no «outsider» nor fresh-faced «challenger» of the status quo. That’s just all superficial marketing and branding to ensure that he prevents Le Pen winning power. Macron will eventually prove to be a willing servant of global capitalism, the EU and NATO, and a ruthless economic hitman against the working class.
In his first-round victory speech at the weekend, Macron declared that he would create a France that is «fair and efficient» for everyone. The use of the word «efficient» is a creepy harbinger of the priorities that this establishment-technocrat will deliver in his presidential service to big business, global capital and US-led transatlantic militarism.
Macron’s endorsement list tells a lot. It includes: incumbent President Francois Hollande and current prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve, the foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. As well as the entire center-right Republican leadership. These two parties were solidly rejected in the first round of the presidential election at the weekend. And yet they are now cheerleading for Macron, the supposed «outsider». This amounts to failed French politicians begetting more failed French politicians. Wow, plus ca change!