But Whose Party Is It?

By Jimmy Quinn

On Monday a thundering column of parading far-right nationalists converged at Paris’ Place des Pyramides to join far-right legend Jean-Marie Le Pen for an annual May Day Joan of Arc celebration.

The elder Le Pen appeared without his daughter and National Front presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who was assembling her own supporters beyond Paris’ city center in the suburb of Villepinte. Following his expulsion from the party for oft-repeated comments minimizing Nazi concentration camp gas chambers as a “detail of history,” they rarely appear in public with one another.

The symbols of national power were overpowering. The demonstrators marched past the Conseil d’État and the Louvre, and the far-right patriarch spoke in front of a golden statue of Joan of Arc. On this particular May 1st, between the two rounds of a historic presidential election that has put nationalist agitation at the fulcrum of French politics again, the address held a poignant significance that helps us understand France’s far-right movement.

Hobbled by old age and looking strained, Le Pen sat on a stool before his podium and delivered a speech of the sort that won him notoriety among his political allies and adversaries alike. The central themes of his perennial message animated his comments: Anti-elitism, anti-immigrant posturing, and economic populism. Whereas the French voting public has grown used to a nationalist political discourse that emphasizes the problems of globalization and political elites, Jean-Marie Le Pen gave the crowd a taste of his riskier brand of identitarian far-right politics.

While his declarations were consistent with some of his daughter’s policy proposals, like those to leave NATO integrated command (this line got a lot of applause), boost defense spending, and eliminate jus soli, he also highlighted where the new, less-objectionable National Front has departed from its ideological roots. His daughter’s party has tried to move past the historical controversies and divisive social issues that only play well with voters in its southern base, but on Monday the founder of the movement called for the repeal of laws legalizing gay marriage and criminalizing the denial of certain historical atrocities like the Holocaust.

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Jean-Marie Le Pen speaks to supporters in Paris on May 1st.

Jean-Marie Le Pen is politically toxic, yet the younger Le Pen’s party is still very much that of her father’s. While she has spent the past six years purging it of its anti-Semitic, openly racist, and authoritarian elements, this process of dédiabolisation (roughly translated to mainstream-izing) is a difficult one that often seems to miss the mark. As recently as last week the interim president of the National Front stepped down amidst criticism of his comments that the Nazi regime did not use Zyklon B gas to kill Jewish concentration camp prisoners.

Many of those assembled to watch Le Pen speak by the Tuileries would next go on to Villepinte to hear from his daughter. They did not seem to think they had to make a choice between the Le Pens, since they represent the same political project. While they had come to celebrate the founder of their political movement, they were also eager supporters of Marine Le Pen’s candidacy. One woman told me, “I’m a supporter of the family,” as if to say the younger Le Pen isn’t perfect but acceptable enough. This is a sentiment that Le Pen echoed in his speech to the effect that Marine Le Pen is no Joan of Arc, but she carries the same political goals. There were also committed supporters of the daughter present, however. When I asked a man sitting in a café after the speech if he was going to see her speak he unfurled a Marine présidente banner with an enthusiastic, “Ouiiiiiiiiii!

There was little concern about the divide between the factions of the party led by the socially progressive Florian Philippot and the traditionally conservative Marion-Maréchal Le Pen. Michel, a Parisian Front supporter I spoke with, noted that the two figures had different perspectives on social issues, but that this was a secondary consideration to saving the country. Fixing the economy and preventing France from “disappearing” came first in his estimation. I think most Frontists share the same view. For many, the patriotism that the Le Pens incarnate is an aspect of identity to rally around, not thinly-veiled xenophobia.  

Patriotism was the word of the day. Emmanuel Macron, still leading the in the polls, has invoked this term recently, on which his second round adversary previously held a monopoly. A favorite line of hers is to characterize the fight for France’s political heart as a battle between patriots and globalists. He struck back during his first round victory speech by naming himself the champion of patriots against the nationalists.

Needless to say, the nationalists don’t take kindly to this play on words. It lends nationalism a malicious meaning and casts the so-called candidate of elitism, international finance, and Francois Hollande as a patriot. Le Pen himself rebutted this connotation with an attack on Macron’s career path, “But no, Mr. System…”

Macron the charismatic cosmopolitan represents a unique threat to the far-right’s project. He’s distinct in having mobilized a broad-based movement that celebrates European integration, perhaps the first politician on the continent to do so with such success. But the threat he poses is one that gives Marine Le Pen the opportunity to make a clear contrast that would have otherwise been difficult to draw on economic issues against a left-wing opponent and on societal questions against the right-wing Francois Fillon. Globalization is her party’s central issue, and she stands to benefit from the new focus on it.

In France’s new politics there are two poles, one of modern society’s globalized consensus and the other of nostalgia for a France that has never actually existed. They both represent the other’s worst nightmare and a poorly drawn caricature of the truth. Macron’s France is out of touch, disdainful of the average Frenchman, and submissive to an authoritarian European technocracy. Le Pen’s France is illiberal, xenophobic and anti-Semitic, and prone to self-inflicted penury. There is no equivocation or middle ground. They inhabit different public spheres and largely speak the language of different cultures.

Both sides misunderstand each other. They’ve each fallen victim to the misinformation they accuse each other of spreading. Mistrust of the media ensues. A far-right blogger handed me a slip of paper advertising her site after the speech: “ENOUGH OF THE PRESS’S LIES! WE SHOULD ALL BECOME JOURNALISTS.” Michel says that his friends are voting for Macron as a “Pavlovian reflex” to forty years of propaganda falsely linking the National Front to Nazism. The party faithful think their beliefs are misunderstood and distorted by those in power. This contributes to the pervasive sense of victimhood at the core of the National Front’s essence, and it meshes with the broader societal angsts that have made the Front’s message so successful.

On Monday the extreme-right types were out in full force, and royalist flags fluttered above the crowd. An activist distributed flyers entitled “ourselves before the others,” encouraging social assistance measures for citizens of France and an end to the preferential treatment of foreigners. I saw him again soon, but this time in a video on my Facebook newsfeed deploying a racial slur against a reporter from the French commentary program Quotidien.

There is clearly still an active dark underbelly to the party. In any case, though, it has become an outlet for individuals looking for a sense of belonging and a deeper attachment to the French nation. I watched the speech next to a student at Paris’ prestigious HEC business school. Smartly dressed and attempting to speak with me in impressive English, he didn’t fit the populist-nationalist mold. In many respects the National Front has entered the mainstream; the political preferences of thirty to forty percent of the French electorate cannot be explained away by racial unease. The polling tells us what we already know – that Marine Le Pen’s attempts to craft a less-objectionable political narrative are finding success and bringing new supporters into the fold.

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Marchers gather at Place des Pyramides for an annual celebration of Joan of Arc. 

But this is where the National Front will meet its greatest challenge over the coming years. How can it be palatable to the broader voting public without totally expelling the extremist activists that constitute one of its foundational pillars? The Front was founded in 1972 as the radical right searched for non-violent, alternative means through which to pursue its agenda, but as much as it abandoned its overtly anti-democratic sentiments, there’s still enough controversy within its ranks to repel voters. Some potential National Front supporters were likely repelled by Le Pen’s zealously negative performance during Thursday night’s debate. Voters also won’t ignore the party’s flirtation with historical revisionism of the sort she invoked to minimize the role of the French state in the World War II era Vel d’Hiv deportations and for which her father is widely reviled.

Between the extremes, the traditionalists, and the typical French voter there’s simply too much distance. The Front will eventually have to choose between pursuing its current trajectory towards moderation to its logical conclusion, becoming an anti-globalization party purged of historical and racial controversy (easier said than done, clearly) and remaining a reflection of its founder’s odious politics. Pursuing the former path wins votes but deprives the Front of the demagogic panache that has endeared it to some; pursuing the latter is a surefire way to stay trapped on the fringes of French politics.

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s continued influence in far-right circles reminds us that while there are fundamental stylistic and substantive differences within the National Front, there is still a notable degree of unity behind its overarching nationalist project. In the near term Marine Le Pen will keep the base together and expand it just enough to spook the political class as she’s done for the previous six years. After Sunday evening, though, the National Front faces a clear choice as to the kind of party it will have to be in order to eventually govern. Between the mainstream and the extremes there might be no winning trade off.

Le Pen’s Surprise Visit in Reims Met with Demonstrations

By Jimmy Quinn, Nastassia Maes, and Megan Evershed

Reims got a taste of the action surrounding the presidential election mid-Friday as Marine Le Pen appeared at the city’s cathedral for a surprise visit.

Before Le Pen arrived, students and other Reims citizens conversed in front of the cathedral. One elder man, who had served as a teacher, claimed that the FN has moved away from their roots of anti-Semitism, saying that a few years ago he never would have thought to vote FN, but that Le Pen had made the party more inclusive and less extremist.

Another man present at the protest had a different viewpoint. Clad in a “Macron Président” t-shirt, he spoke about how Le Pen encouraged division and that France should unite against hatred. He passionately led surrounding demonstrators in protests ranging from “Macron Président!” to “France ensemble!” (France together!)

Arnaud Robinet, the mayor of Reims, cited the history of Reims as a peaceful city, tweeting:

Despite Robinet’s calls to not waste her time in Reims, Le Pen arrived at around 11am to the Reims Cathedral.

With an entourage that included Front National officials and her Prime Minister designate, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, she toured the cathedral and discretely departed from a side door that leads out of the Palais du Tau, the museum and UNESCO world heritage site next to the cathedral. Meanwhile, activists gathered outside in a spontaneous demonstration against Le Pen.

Le Pen deputy Florian Philippot emerged by another door on the side and managed to dodge eggs hurled his way by protesters.

The crowd on the plaza was made up of approximately one or two hundred individuals of different ages, social backgrounds, and political orientations, many of whom were Sciences Po students. They chanted anti-fascist slogans and “Give back the money!” in an apparent allusion to the allegations of a fictitious employment scandal leveled against the National Front’s candidate. Another popular chant included: “F comme Fascho, N comme Nazi. À bas, à bas Le Front National!” (F like fascist, N like Nazi. Down with, down with Le Front National!)

Quentin Pujol, Euraf 1A, was happy to see the wide range of political viewpoints assembled in opposition to Le Pen this afternoon. He noted the unity of the students present, many of whom had mobilized for candidates other than Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the presidential election. Pujol supported Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon two weeks ago, but says that today “there’s a bigger fight.”

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Macron supporter leading chants in front of the Reims cathedral (Photo credits: Megan Evershed)

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron were out in full force waving En Marche! signs and balloons, alongside backers of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his France Insoumise movement and self-described anti-fascist groups.

According to POLITICO Europe, polls show 62% of the French population would vote for Macron if the election was held today. This increase in popularity follows Macron’s strong performance in a televised debate on May 3rd. His surge in support could also a prime example of “republican front,” a political phenomenon whereby defeated political parties join the movement of a particular party candidate to fend off their opponent. And this seemed to be the mentality of many Mélenchon and Hamon supporters in Reims today as they protested Le Pen.

Le Pen and her allies responded on Twitter, criticizing the demonstrators for disrespecting a revered national symbol and engaging in violent political activity. They said that the Macron campaign had assembled this group as a malicious political stunt. Florian Philippot’s tweet featuring a screenshot was later found to be “fake news.”

 

While Le Pen toured the cathedral, National Front supporters clashed with Sciences Po students outside. Thomas Dury, Euram 1A, Teddy Paikin, Euram 2A, and Ignacio Leon-Bustos, Euraf 1A, say they were attacked by backers of Marine Le Pen for brandishing a flag with anti-fascist messaging.

One man grabbed the flag Leon-Bustos was holding from behind and punched him before running off. After Paikin unsuccessfully attempted to retrieve it, the man took cover behind a line of police officers standing in front of the cathedral and performed a sieg heil salute, flag in hand. Paikin told The Sundial Press that he and his friends had come to make their voice heard by Marine Le Pen and the FN and were disappointed by the lack of concern shown by the authorities.

“I am disgusted by the fascist, racist and violent FN supporters who targeted us, as well as the police who did not stand against their violence. The day after Le Pen says in the debate that the French police didn’t round up Jews, a man does a Nazi salute to my face,” he said.

Eventually the police escorted the man and the group he was with from the plaza for their disruptive behavior. There were a few other scuffles in the crowd as people ran between different doors of the cathedral once Philippot exited via the side door of the cathedral.

Zak Vescera, Euram 2A, recounted a chaotic scene in front of the cathedral as demonstrators tried to anticipate the door from which Le Pen would emerge. “People were angry and wanted to make themselves heard,” he told The Sundial Press. He was one of around 15 people present when she exited and noted that the group lurched at her upon her appearance, leading her to stumble before getting into a car. Despite the tense atmosphere and occasional scuffles, however, he doesn’t believe that the anti-Le Pen demonstrators had come to start fights.

Iyad Kaghdad, a Franco-Canadian exchange student, was among the few people who entered the cathedral following Marine Le Pen’s arrival. He says of his experience: “Inside, everything was very calm. We soon found ourselves behind closed doors with the most important figures of the FN: Marine Le Pen, Florian Philippot, David Rachline, and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. They went around the cathedral, accompanied by a few supporters, and the bodyguards were watching us. Without apparent aggressiveness, they kept an eye on us. We stayed about thirty minutes inside, following Le Pen and her circle closely. They were chatting and taking photos, with an apparent but somewhat forced smile. No one could ignore what was going on outside.”

Looking back on the day’s events, Maximin Wion, Euraf 2A who supported far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first presidential round, said: “In the end, in terms of facts, nothing extraordinary happened, in the strict sense of the word. Then again, it is important to point out that what happened, or what the people and students of Sciences Po who came did, is an act that should be normal, and that unfortunately does not appear so. In the face of an extremism and danger for what makes our society and our coexistence, every citizen should mobilize. For this reason, I was very pleasantly surprised to see this spontaneous citizen movement that was formed to react to the arrival of a sower of hate. And the people present were not a small circle of politicized Sciences Po students considered as ‘children of the bourgeois’ by Marine Le Pen, but society and citizens in all their diversity. It goes to show that maybe there still remains a bit of hope…”

After the crowd largely dispersed, supporters of Macron and Le Pen stayed to face off in front of the cameras. Heated arguments pitted partisans of the two candidates against each other on racism, labor, and the nature of the election itself.

One Le Pen voter defended his candidate from charges of racism in front of a circle of Macron supporters, remarking that he comes from a North African ethnic background. He particularly opposed the former minister of the economy’s support of liberal labor market reforms.

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Macron supporter balloon bearing French values (Photo credit: Nicole Chong)

This was one of Le Pen’s final public appearances before official campaigning comes to an end tonight. It is a reminder of the fraught energy and the profound divisions in French society that are shaping this election.

The election also has global implications, a theme that Nicole Chong, Euram 2A, touched upon. “I don’t have the power to vote in the French election, but as an EU citizen I felt it was really important to show up and be a voice for France remaining in the EU, a cause that I care very deeply about. Even if Le Pen doesn’t win, her party and their ideology still have the power to influence the field of French politics, and European politics more broadly.”

Voters will go to the polls on Sunday, May 7th to decide who will become the next president of France.

One Last Chance

By Dalton Fischer-Linnett

Five years ago I sat chewing dressed olives in a café behind the Boulevard Saint- Germain in Paris’ ritzy-bohemian sixth arrondissement. As the sun sank into balmy spring air, casting a long shadow from my glass of mint water, a great clatter erupted in the thoroughfare around the corner. Television screens facing out to the street from inside the many cafés began to bounce and flicker to news broadcasts. A hologram of a short man with a cactus of retreating hair and thin, frameless glasses stood, smiling faintly, in buzzing television studios among real-life presenters. Below him the announcement: François Hollande elected president of the Republic.

Paris’ sixth district, and its nearby Latin Quarter, are thick with students. Although today the Rive Gauche boasts some of the priciest property in Europe, its traditional association with artists and thinkers has preserved a leftist heritage. Revelers, mostly young, emerged seemingly from nowhere to stuff the famous boulevard. Banners unfurled and rose over the crowd, bearing the Socialist Party’s pink rose. Cries of “Vive la Republique!” ricocheted off limestone walls and set café parasols trembling.

I stood and joined the thickening throng, undulating slowly but with growing purpose eastward. As the sun set, we marched to the Bastille, where many a leftist demonstration has reached its head in the centuries since the French Revolution was born there in 1789. Late into the night, celebrating cries – many increasingly slurred as the hour dwindled – riddled the streets of the city. The warm spring air seemed to bubble.

Five years later, that same air seems to have frozen stiff. France’s political conversation has been pulled so taut that a word might bring the whole atmosphere shattering down. The jubilation I joined that day in 2012 has evaporated; the man in whose name it had mobilized is now the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic, and the most unpopular head of state in the whole of Europe.

What did Mr Hollande do to fall so spectacularly from public approval? How could a man who inspired such excitement become the object of such bitter disdain? The truth is, for all his flaws, Mr Hollande was not the author of his own demise. Something changed forever in the years that passed between my evening on Saint-Germain and my return to France in the summer of 2015. We all know, by now, of the tide of populism swelling in Europe – indeed, it is stronger in France than almost anywhere else. But something has been broken besides. France is not merely a victim of the “Brexit-Trump” phenomenon. If she were, Marine Le Pen and her National Front might have hoped to garner more than 21 per cent of the vote in the first round on April 23.

More than simply succumb to the siren call of populism, France has grown ill of its stale combat between the centre-left and the centre-right; between two conglomerate parties that seem to condescend, to serve themselves, and far too often, to break their promises. Mr Hollande’s early reforms did not go as far as his voters had been led to believe; in 2014, with the appointment of the liberal Emmanuel Macron to the Ministry of the

Economy, the president showed himself ready to U-turn on the economy, pleasing his prime minister’s centre-liberal wing of the party at the expense of the traditionalist cohort. Mr Hollande would never be the socialist Messiah as he had billed himself in 2012. His unprecedented decision not to run for reelection, and the trouncing of former prime minister Manuel Valls in the party’s presidential primary, spelled a dark electoral future for France’s traditional left-wing power constituency. In the event, the traditionalist Benoit Hamon would be roundly rejected by his party’s voters and his country, winning less than seven percent. The party of Francois Mitterrand could face a rout in the legislative elections in June.

The same Mr Macron, branded a “traitor” by the Hamonite wing of the Socialist Party, will contest the runoff on May 7 against Ms Le Pen. The battle lines will be two diametrically opposed visions of the French and European future – Mr Macron’s an urban, intellectual, and integrationist France; Ms Le Pen’s an agro-industrial one with stiff borders, closer to its traditional roots.

But how did that Mr Macron – the “traitor”, the “opportunist”, the “banker”, “elitist”, “novice”, “boy” – rise so high so quickly? His only experience with government is a two- year shift as the unelected Minister of the Economy – a job where his liberalizing reforms made him a hero to many but a villain to millions of others, particularly to left- wing socialists who felt duped by their president, who had nominated him. Until the opening of investigations into Republican François Fillon’s parliamentary payment scandal, most pundits gave Mr Macron, at best, an outside chance at the second round, let alone at the Élysée Palace.

But it is clear that Mr Macron is something of a remarkable individual. Comparisons have been drawn with Barack Obama in 2008, and the Nick Clegg phenomenon in Britain in 2010. When he speaks, he maintains a piercing gaze with the camera and his audience. His eyebrows often lifted, he looks always to be thinking, calculating, and considering. His youth in a field populated mostly with quinqua- and sexagenarians endows him with an appearance of energy and optimism that Mr Fillon and Mr Mélenchon can do nothing to imitate. His movement, En Marche! capitalizes on this gender of personality cult – its logo is written in handwriting and its initials, conveniently, are his.

I have believed since last April, when Mr Macron launched his movement, that he would succeed Mr Hollande as president. This view was held by very few until very recently. Centrists often do not fare well in European elections – especially when unaffiliated with any major centre-left or centre-right party. But the direct mandate of France’s presidential election permits Mr Macron to do something Mr Clegg never could in Britain. The presidency is an individual office, occupied by a person, not by a party. Like Mr Obama, France’s own centrist has built his campaign around an almost-celebrity image. His decision to remain unaffiliated enables him uniquely to attract voters from other parties who would balk at the idea of voting for a rival party, but are less afraid of voting for the man himself if his ideas seem promising. The Macron campaign operates a high-definition, flattering Instagram profile, which often portrays its candidate with his face raised slightly to the sky, his arms outstretched – an invocation, a vindication, a blessing. It is the image of a man with the dynamism and the optimism to bring real change to a country begging for a revised future.

Whether this is true of Mr Macron is anyone’s guess. If he wins on May 7, as he is expected to, his presidency will be a merciless test from its very first day. The voters, who will have coalesced around him – many reluctantly, after the elimination of their preferred candidate – will scrutinize the every move of an inexperienced, thirty-nine- year-old president promising to redefine French politics – “neither right nor left”, a “France for everyone”. What is certain is that the French will not tolerate another president who fails to bring the change he promised. For better or for worse, President Macron – if indeed that is who he is to become – will survive his first term only if his “revolution” bears tangible results, like new jobs, a faster-growing economy, and national security in the wake of repeated terrorist strikes.

If it does not, the consequences for French politics could be grave. Even if defeated this year, the National Front is not going away. Beating populists will not eliminate them. The defeat of both of France’s major parties in the first round of these elections, which is unprecedented, has given numerical proof to the sentiment that French voters will stand no longer for deception and disappointment. Mr Macron must recognize this. He may be liberal France’s last chance.

Sciences Po Students on the Battle for the Elysée Palace

By Jessie Williams

At a recent En Marche! rally in the Reims Centre des Congrés, young and old cheered and waved the tricolour as Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old independent centrist, bounced onto the stage. Floriane Graignic was one of those cheering; wearing an En Marche! T-shirt, the 19-year-old from Versailles was one of the youth organisers of the event which was attended by almost 1,300 people.

As the battle for the Elysée Palace enters the final countdown, a generation of young people are preparing to cast their vote for the first time. Those at Sciences Po Campus de Reims are eagerly awaiting the chance to have their say after an election campaign plagued by scandals. These are the students who will go on to shape the social and political landscape of France, so what do they think of the 2017 frontrunners?

Having joined the En Marche! campaign as soon as it started, Graignic’s vote is firmly with Macron. “I really like his position as a candidate that fits neither in the PS (Parti Socialiste) or Les Républicains but who seeks to gather people around a project that can really put France back on its feet. I like the idea of combining liberal economic reforms with social protection. And I also deeply believe in Europe’s future, which I think is at the center of his project.”

Macron has never held any elected mandate, which is a worry for some of his supporters, but not for Graignic. “I’d rather have someone with little political experience instead of someone who has never known anything else than politics.” She found the results of the primaries very interesting as they were so unexpected. “I think they reveal a profound desire for radical change on the part of the French population.”

Undecided voter, Stella Chene, a 19-year-old from Paris, agrees with Macron’s “guiding principles”, however she finds it “kind of scary” to vote for someone with such an undetailed program – as she has no idea how he will implement his plans. “I voted for Hamon in the socialist primaries – I am a member of the Socialist Party. But it was mostly to kick Manuel Valls out.” She does agree with some of Hamon’s policies, particularly with the idea of a universal wage and for his stance on feminism, but her priorities are the environment, a strong European Union, and helping refugees, so she feels more inclined to vote for Macron.

Realistically, Chene thinks she will do a “vote utile” (tactical vote) for Macron. “I am afraid that if I vote Mélenchon or Hamon, it will be Fillon vs. Le Pen in the second round, and that would be a really terrible situation for me – imagine my first second-round presidential vote having to be cast for Fillon!”

But most importantly, I find Macron inspiring. Before he launched his movement, I was already saying that political parties cause problems. They are too rigid; all members have to stick to an ideology or they are accused of backstabbing their political family – I think that’s detrimental to debate. I think it puts people into boxes that are not always relevant.”

As an aspiring politician, Chene hopes to run for presidency one day, and thinks that youth should be seen as a positive. “Experience is very important, but I think the supreme office shouldn’t be restricted to experts.” She says that it’s refreshing to have a newcomer: “Especially since En Marche! grew with citizen committees who participated in the drafting of the project.”

17-year-old Antoine Humbert disagrees with Chene; he doesn’t think Macron deserves a place in this campaign and says he only uses demagogy. Humbert describes him as “a banker who believed after less than three years in politics that he could run as a candidate for the presidential elections thanks to the financial support he received from his former colleagues”.

Despite not being old enough to vote in the coming election, Humbert has been following the build-up with interest and hopes that the National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen, will win. “I am a supporter of Le Pen as I believe that the European Project has come to an end and if we want our country to keep going forward, it must quit the European Union.”

With a possible Frexit on the cards, Humbert believes French households will see their purchasing power increase. “There will be more job creations as internal demand would shift upward and social inequalities will decrease as measures will be taken to improve the social conditions of poor people and better reallocate the state money.”

He also cites the threat of terrorism as a major reason for his support of the National Front. “Le Pen is the only one to propose some strong measures in terms of defence. With an increase of the army budget to 2% of the GDP and an increase in the number of the police employees, it will bring back security in our streets.”

His reason for voting for an alternative party is due to disappointment at the Républicains and Socialist parties. According to him they have done nothing to ease the social inequalities within France, and neither have proved to be successful at governing.

But for Cliona Noone, a 19-year-old from Vincennes, the Socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, is the one that makes her hope for a better future. “He is the only one that puts the youth at the center of his campaign and is the most vocal about women’s rights.”

When asked what she thinks about criticism of him being too radical, she replies: “He is not ‘too radical’, people have forgotten what it means to be ‘à gauche’, to want to protect the workers, to protect people from the side effects of globalization. People have forgotten what the state is meant to do: protect and support its citizens.”

Noone thinks this is the worst election the 5th Republic has ever experienced. The Républicains party is exploding and shifting towards more extreme views. The Socialists are also being torn apart between Macron and Mélenchon; both were rejected from primary posts in the government.”

“The extremes (Mélenchon and Le Pen) seem more than likely to get the power, as the electorate is fractured.” She thinks the outcome may be violent as the political climate has been hostile ever since the ‘manif pour tous’. The huge demonstration in January 2013 against the law allowing same-sex marriage; the right extreme movement that emerged called itself the ‘manif pour tous’ (like the name of the law ‘Mariage pour tous’), which included a mixture of royalists, Catholic associations, Républicains, and National Front supporters.

Pierre Wang, a 19-year-old from Beijing and Normandy, thinks that if common sense prevails, Les Républicains candidate, François Fillon, will be elected as President on 7th May. “He has the most ambitious, detailed and pragmatic project. After five wasted years under François Hollande whose election was based on people’s hatred of his adversary, reforms are more than ever necessary.”

He is also a firm believer in the benefits of the EU, and is shocked by the views of the other candidates on this topic. “No less than half of the candidates blame the EU for everything or threaten to get out of it. How is this possible? Those candidates are old enough to have listened to the testimonies of World War survivors – their parents! – or have lived during the Cold War. Blaming the EU in such a way is intellectually dishonest. The EU fosters peace, economic cooperation, high-quality norms and standards, science and research. When I look at all of them and this 2017 election process, I wonder what General de Gaulle would think.”

But what is Wang’s view on the allegations against Fillon? He is accused of misuse of public funds – dubbed “Penelope-gate” by the French media after his wife, whom he allegedly paid for fake employment – and is slipping in the polls because of it.

Wang believes that the ones who threw this affair on the public stage simply want to damage Fillon’s performance in the election. “But they can be happy as they already succeeded in sabotaging the 2017 presidential campaign. There was no serious presidential campaign in the past two months. That’s a shame when you think at all the issues and challenges that should be discussed and solved.”

Despite the allegations, Wang’s support for Fillon has not diminished; “I still support him because I believe that he has the most comprehensive project that France needs. He is a statesman unlike all the others. Behind him, the right and the center are ready to govern and manage the country.  Fillon is the only one capable of having a majority in both houses of Parliament. Don’t forget that the legislative branch is important as well. How will Mr. Macron govern with a Republican Senate and a Republican or a very divided National Assembly?”

On the other hand, Adeline Massard, a 20-year-old from Gabon, is supporting Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the far-left party, ‘Unsubmissive France’, in the coming election. “First and foremost, because I share most of the ideas he puts forward. In my opinion, his political platform is the fairest and most realistic, especially with regard to the environment, social policy, the EU, and foreign policy. He is not afraid of saying what he thinks, and doesn’t seem susceptible to the influence of lobbies, contrary to many other candidates.”

Massard describes some of the other candidates as “frenetic caricatures” and says she is really disappointed by the level of debate, which has been degraded by polarization around certain issues like terrorism and the migratory crisis. “I consider it a regrettable strategy employed by some politicians who tend to give these issues a privileged place at the expense of other fundamental topics such as the environment (the need to establish energy transition as soon as possible, for instance), unemployment, or implementing a better distribution of wealth”.

Referred to by many as a leftist firebrand, Mélenchon, was widely regarded as performing the best in the last TV debate between the 11 candidates. A snap poll by Elabe for BFM TV found that he had managed to convince 25 percent of those who had watched the debate. But Massard thinks it is still going to be a tight race to the finish line. “Several months ago, we wouldn’t have expected Fillon and Hamon to win the presidential primary elections. With them, Marine Le Pen is slipping in recent polls while Mélenchon is gaining ground.” As we have seen with Brexit and the US Presidential election, anything could happen, as the French would say: rien n’est encore joué.

Recipe for Ephemeral Victory: Who the real winners were in the second debate

By Marine Carbonnel

The second debate was delectably entertaining. Gather eleven candidates, generously pour Euroscepticism, mix in populism, beat the Establishment until stiff, sprinkle some basic economic notions to complement more technical numbers, add a pinch of insolence and top off with punchlines, and you have made yourself an exquisite and complex amuse-bouche.

For the first time yesterday, all the candidates, “grands” and “petits”, were gathered and put on the same level. Fillon, Mélenchon, Lassalle, Arthaud, Le Pen, Hamon, Cheminade, Poutou, Macron, Dupont-Aignan and Asselineau all faced the journalists Elkrief and Ferrari with a strong stance for more than three hours. The diversity they represented was refreshing, most notably through Poutou and Lassalle. Akin to the other “petits candidats”, they seized the opportunity to add the saliency of their issues to the political balance. Whether or not you knew these candidates prior to the debate, by 10pm, you would have a good idea of who they are and what they defend. By 11pm, you would have been able to finish their sentences. Cheminade? The financial markets! Arthaud? The evil “patronat”! Dupont-Aignan? Sovereignty! Asselineau? Frexit, NATO, Article 50!

Impinging on Le Pen’s working class electorate, the “petits candidats” accurately pinpointed the difficulties the French are facing. They presented on the television show that which we overhear in the local bars-tabac. Unemployment, burnouts, difficulty of labour, unethical politics, a confused and unconvinced perspective on the European Union, the tension between the elite and the people… And yet if these problems may be evoked by the main candidates, the sincerity of these “petits candidats” shone. The secret ingredients of their strength are simple: experience as a factory worker (Poutou), direct contact with agriculture (Lassalle) and labour (Arthaud), lack of self-interest… They seemed particularly free: free from party strategies, free from the political game, free from stonewalling. Overcoming what Mélenchon had called “pudeur de gazelles” (“gazelles’ prudishness”) in the first debate, Poutou explicitly denounced Fillon and Le Pen’s judiciary affairs. Without Angot’s deplorable and irrational fury, Poutou simply said what the public opinion believes, and what Mélenchon, Macron and Hamon fear to voice as they are concerned about diminishing their stature.

The presence of “petits candidats” may have arguably lowered the complexity of the debate, but they epitomize democracy. They have taken down the main candidates from their pedestal and challenged their programs through pragmatic eyes. Witnessing Le Pen becoming more European than ever to contrast with the Eurosceptic majority had a particular taste that was not displeasing. Underlaying the fight for the time to speak waged by the “petits candidats” was the struggle for democracy that the French are currently sensing.

If the recipe was to be reproduced, the number of ingredients would not need to be changed, as of yet. This amuse-bouche was satisfactory and has tantalised our palate for the main course.

De battre mon cœur s’est empressé

By Emma Pique.

Il est des jours qui marquent les esprits politiques. Pour moi ce fut le 19 mars 2017 au meeting de Benoît Hamon à Bercy. Après une soirée post-midterm bien arrosée, le réveil fut quelque peu difficile mais il en valait la peine. Un groupe de sciences-pistes aux esprits encore embrumés se retrouva sur le parking de ce cher René Tys afin de prendre un bus affrété par la campagne pour se rendre à Bercy. Au sortir du bus, les centaines de personnes affluant vers la salle donnaient bon espoir quant au succès du meeting.  Il en est de même du temps qu’il nous a fallu pour pénétrer dans le palais omnisport. Je pouvais ainsi observer à loisir les gens qui s’y rendaient : femmes, hommes, jeunes, quadras, quinquas, seniors, toutes classes sociales confondues. Une fois entrée, je me suis vue confiée un drapeau des MJS au message féministe ; le hasard faisait bien les choses. Notre petit groupe s’est ensuite dirigé vers la fosse, où étaient regroupés les militants les plus jeunes. Interludes musicaux et discours d’élus socialistes ont rythmé l’après-midi. Nous avons entendu pêle-mêle un groupe de rock yiddish, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Yannick Jadot et General Elektriks.

 Vers 15h, l’organisation de la campagne annonce que « Bercy explose » : les 20 000 places que compte la salle sont occupées et 5000 personnes suivent la retransmission du meeting sur écran géant. Le pari semble alors réussi .La dernière à prendre la parole avant Benoît Hamon et ce sous les applaudissements de tout Bercy, fut Christiane Taubira. Son discours commença, plein de malice, par cette phrase « est-ce que vous réalisez que nous sommes invincibles ? ». La suite de l’intervention fut drôle et pleine d’esprit, l’ancienne Garde des Sceaux envoyant des piques bien senties à François Fillon et Emmanuel Macron pour ne pas les nommer. Comme à son habitude, l’inspirée et inspirante femme politique a fini son discours par un mot d’Aimé Césaire, redonnant espoir en notre destin collectif : « l’ombre nous gagne mais nous sommes de ceux qui disent non à l’ombre ».

A 15h40, le candidat entre en scène, acclamé par une foule scandant « Hamon président ». Peu après le début de son discours, il invite la salle à respecter une minute de silence en mémoire des victimes du terrorisme. 20 000 personnes se taisent alors à l’unisson, solennellement, gravement. Le candidat  livre alors un discours puissant, truffé de références à l’héritage socialiste, à l’histoire de la France, à notre culture. Il porte un vibrant appel à la jeunesse française : « Omar, David, Jonathan, Sylvie, Bilal, Rebecca : vous êtes la France, ne baissez pas la tête. Soyez un peuple fraternel ». Enfin,  Benoît Hamon, se livre à un plaidoyer féministe,  commençant par cette phrase : « Je dis à la petite fille, à la jeune femme qui m’écoute, j’ai hâte que tu sois ici à la place que j’occupe ». L’émotion emplit les yeux du candidat ainsi que les miens, frappés par la beauté et la sincérité d’un message si nécessaire.

Le meeting s’achève aux alentours de 17h, sur une note d’espérance rafraîchissante et tellement essentielle, après 1h30 de discours passée en un éclair si ce n’est un mal de pieds naissant. Dans le bus me ramenant à Reims, je prends conscience d’avoir vécu un moment sans nulle pareille. Un moment fraternel, un moment puissant, un moment magnifique. Peu importe les sondages, le 19 mars, le cœur du peuple de gauche a battu et il a repris espoir.

What Remains of the French Left?

By Jimmy Quinn

In a Parisian venue packed to the brim with ecstatic supporters, Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon gave the tour de force performance of his political career on a recent Sunday afternoon.

The crowd of 25,000 assembled at the AccorHotels arena in Bercy on March 19th and  radiated an electrifying energy in the presence of a star-studded entourage of left-wing legends. From famed economist Thomas Piketty to former minister of justice Christiane Taubira to several other old and new household names, the group sent a clear message: The French left is united around Benoît Hamon.

It was political theater of the highest quality, an event executed more-or-less perfectly, but unfortunately for the former minister of education, this might not mean much come April.

The unexpected victor of the primary of the left entered the race at the helm of a party tarnished by an incumbent president with abysmal approval ratings. To boot, the hard left voters Hamon would otherwise win gravitate towards the considerably more radical Jean-Luc Mélenchon, while the centrist voters who supported former Manuel Valls in the primary generally support Emmanuel Macron.

The ironic thing is that Hamon, a staunch left-winger, is perhaps for the first time in his life caught in the middle, condemned to electoral purgatory between the extreme left and what he calls the “groiche,” a creative epithet that pokes fun at Macron’s ambiguous centrism.

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A journalist reports from in front of the vibrant crowd at Benoît Hamon’s rally on March 19.

In a different year, his prospects would be far more promising. He proved on that afternoon that he is capable of amassing energetic support behind his brand of politics: positive, explosive, unequivocally of the left. While running on promises to remove the influence of money in politics (he says, “the party of money has too many candidates in this election”), champion ecology (former Ecology party candidate Yannick Jadot was present on Sunday to emphasize this point), and fight all forms of discrimination – all traditionally central components of left-wing campaigns – his calls for a tax on automation and a universal basic income have attracted poignant opposition, even within the Socialist Party. For this reason it becomes even clearer that Hamon is taking his party into new territory, at least for the duration of the campaign.

Where the extreme right and left pontificate against globalization, Hamon comes from the perspective that it’s wiser to manage modernity’s challenges instead of resorting to blunt promises that please the masses (he likes to tout his education policy as a solution for globalization). Sometimes, though, he might seem to sell his universal income like one of these promises. But, in any case, he is opening an important dimension in the debate over dealing with the dramatic changes in the labor market of the post-industrial era, intentional or not.

However, he justified his basic income proposal in the vein of continuing a left-wing heritage that can be traced back to France’s left-wing World War II-era National Council of Resistance, more than as a way of coping with automation at Bercy. An important question to ask, then, is whether Hamon has appeal in the periphery of France, where the National Front is campaigning for union votes that used to go to the country’s communists.

The Hamon agenda can in a certain respect be viewed as populist, but maybe not in the way that it needs to be to win in those areas. It plays better with urban youth, and the National Front already possesses a commanding lead over the youth vote. Moreover, the Socialist candidate’s commitment to Europe, despite his promises to amend the treaties of the European Union, places him in the mainstream of French political discourse and at odds with France’s anti-globalists.

Some pro-Valls PS figures have already indicated that they cannot support Hamon’s candidacy, and a few members of the Hollande cabinet have even drifted into Macron’s orbit. Despite this, though, he is the dream candidate many on the left have been waiting for. Defiant and probably less likely than Hollande to hide his political ideology if he reaches the Élysée, he could very well be the enduring face of the post-2017 Socialist Party. But is this such a desirable prize in the long term?

This year’s breakdown of the old party system might culminate in a second round globalist-nationalist clash, if the current polling holds. The left-right political divide has taken a backseat this year, and Hamon has planted his campaign squarely in its contextsomething not easily lost on any of the enthusiastic supporters present at Bercy. We can look at his political future as an indicator of whether this shift is just a fad or instead the emergence of a new political reality in the west.

After May, Benoît Hamon will either lead a resurgent left-wing movement that remains competitive in future national elections or a politically obsolete vestige of the 20th century.