Opinions, Column

Assessing the French Election

The United States and France have been intertwined since the birth of the American Republic. When our nation was paltry and struggling, France intervened with support, and years later, while France was run by the Vichy Regime, the U.S. stepped in to support the French against the Axis coalition. This close relationship and shared western culture has brought both countries to the forefront of international politics, and this shared election season between the two states has seemed to bring them even closer together.

Here and abroad, the left-right conflict has been intruded upon by a new party, a sort of populist response to elite government. This new fervor culminated in the Donald Trump presidency in the U.S., and in France it shows itself in the notable support for French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front.

Le Pen’s proposals, for the most part, are reactionary, and will hurt France in the long run, especially her domestic policies. Perhaps the most extreme of these proposals, her plan to shut down especially “extremist” mosques, is an attack on religious liberty. Except for her views on French involvement with the rest of Europe, Le Pen’s programs are ill-advised. The liberal-center candidate Emmanuel Macron of his new French political entity En Marche! has the best combination of both right and left wing policies to improve the wellbeing of the French state and its people.

The main points of Macron’s policy involve deregulation, a tax cut, increased infrastructure spending, and a unification of the Eurozone.

As a center-right individual, I agree with Macron’s plan. Deregulation will help France even more than it would the U.S., and given France’s cumbersome system of rules in the economic sphere, a tax cut would incentivize investment. Better infrastructure helps almost every party in the French state. I would, however, disagree with the push toward a more unified Eurozone, but this stance helps Macron draw support from members of less popular parties. This cross-spectrum of left and right policies has earned Macron the support of center-right candidate François Fillon and left-socialist voice Manuel Valls.

Meanwhile, Le Pen is advocating for a variety of populist policies, such immigration restrictions, creating a stronger national identity, and increasing tariffs, along with greater welfare benefits.

Each of these proposals won’t help France. Over-extensive immigration restriction will simply cultivate French intolerance toward foreigners, and although this might help France unify its identity, it does so at the cost of creating a homogenous population. That’s not true French unity. A unified country does not consist of one demographic, but a variety of demographics united through a shared set of values. An increase in tariffs will simply make it harder for France to export, further restricting the struggling French economy and appreciating the Euro. Increasing welfare benefits, reducing the hourly work week, and lowering the retirement age would worsen France’s already stagnant economy. All these policies do is incentivize short-term-minded voters to support Le Pen, and it seems to be working, for now.

One of the only redeeming qualities about Le Pen’s program is her emphasis on France’s separation from the European Union—a controversial idea. Most liberal-center minds support the E.U., citing its way of linking Europe economically and reducing transaction costs. Yet, despite these advantages, it’s difficult for a sovereign state to exist without complete control of its central bank. The ability of the Federal Reserve in the U.S. to manipulate monetary policy and stabilize the economy has enabled it to enact changes even within a political stalemate. Without similar control, France is at the whim of a highly bureaucratic European Central Bank.

Creating an independent currency, like England has retained, will allow France to make quicker economic decisions to navigate the complex global marketplace, and Le Pen wants to do just this.This does not mean, however, that France should exclude itself from other facets of the E.U. Reduced trade barriers and a linked economy bring Europe together and benefit the citizens of each country, and France should keep these benefits while regaining control over its economy.

No candidate is perfect, and in almost every election, the ideal politician holds a combination of different forms of policy. If Macron can bring populist energy combined with effective economic policy, and make France inclusive, yet not beholden to the whims of the E.U., then France, Europe, and the world in general will benefit.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor

May 3, 2017