Monday, May 07, 2012

The Meaning of Mr. Hollande

As predicted by many, the Socialist Francois Hollande has defeated the sitting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In absurd fashion, the right-wing Drudge Report has tried to spin this event in its headlines as bad news for Obama because it's a case of an incumbent being unseated.

Contrary to what Drudge might think, it's clearly a case of people in Europe becoming fed up with IMF-mandated austerity, but what is the broader picture? It looks like it may be the beginning of the end for austerity, and possibly the end of the Eurozone itself, if France breaks with Germany in the current strategy for dealing with the debt crisis so far. Does it also mean a resurgence of the left in Europe? Maybe not. The French Socialists are known for being pragmatists rather than ideologues. Things might not change that much. Should the Socialists in France take heart at the results, or was it more a case of the French people being fed up with Sarkozy's arrogance and buffoonery? The strong showing of the the far-right, anti-immigration National Front Party of Marine Le Pen in the first round has caused more than a little bit of disquiet.
I was reading an article in Slate the other morning, which seemed to indicate that despite the Socialist victory, the real story of these results is the resurgence of extreme right-wing parties, not only in France, but throughout all of Europe. The thesis of Yascha Mounk’s article seems to be that instead of strangling them in their cribs like they should have, center-right parties in Europe formed coalitions with extreme rightist parties over the years in order to win elections against the left, but have now lost the ability to control them.
The true winner of this election isn’t France’s left; it’s Europe’s far right…The reason is simple. In this election, France’s establishment has embraced Islamophobic ideas to an unprecedented degree.
Right-wing populism, once a fringe phenomenon, has been conquering the bastions of Europe’s political mainstream with frightening speed.. It’s difficult to know whether Europe’s populists are approaching the zenith of their power or will continue their steady rise. But one thing is certain: At no point in Europe’s postwar history has the far right’s influence been as pervasive as it is now….  
All of this matters beyond France because, historically, what happens in Paris often portends what will happen elsewhere on the continent. It’s not just that most Europeans think of the French Revolution as the cradle of modern democracy… Up until now, populists have celebrated their biggest successes in countries like the Netherlands, Italy, and Poland. But France isn’t as small as the Netherlands, as politically dysfunctional as Italy, or as new to democracy as Poland. The sad spectacle of the last several weeks is the culmination of a wider European trend of accommodating the far right—and it may suggest it’s about to get much worse...
Like in France, established political parties across the continent at first vowed to shun surging populist leaders like Jörg Haider of Austria or Geert Wilders of the Netherlands. A cordon sanitaire was to unite all democrats in their fight against the far right threat. But unity did not last long. As populist parties in these countries gained in strength, traditional coalition governments, especially those formed by center-right parties, lost their majorities. Center-right leaders realized that to gain or preserve power they would have to cooperate with the populists. As a result, in one country after another, center-right parties that had once vowed to fight the far right have come to rely on them to prop themselves up.
Is there something to this? I've been reading a book that suggests that there is less here to worry about than meets the eye, but on the other hand, the book is a few years old now. It's called Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French. In explaining the strength of extreme parties in the first round of French presidential elections in 2002, when Le Pen’s father made it into the second round of voting, it says....
In the French system, the main danger comes from the potential of electors to express too large a variety of points of view; This is exactly what produced the upset of the 2002 presidential elections (When Le Pen’s National Front advanced to the 2nd round). The left spread its vote across too many parties, which allowed the extreme right candidate to push the left out of the second round…. Like all European extreme right politicians, Le Pen’s platform was strongly anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, and law and order. Naturally, all of France and the entire world decried Le Pen’s first round victory, Jacques Chirac, who had come first, called the French to rally behind him and on May 1, one million people gathered in Paris to protest the extreme right.
The aftermath was interesting. Le Pen was completely isolated and hardly made any progress. On the second round, he garnered 19 percent of the vote, which was barely the sum of the total extreme right vote in the first round.
Who’s right? Have things changed significantly in the last ten years?

This has been parallel-posted on Wordpress at The Doge.


shera10 said...

Maybe you are wondering is if the right-wing is on the rise in Europe or if the left-wing is on the rise....;-)

Of course in the middle of the worse economic crisis after 1929 Governments lose elections, so Zapatero was replaced by Rajoy and Sarkozy by Hollande, and Cameron and Merkel are in big troubles, however what I find very interesting is that in France in the second round 18% of people that on the first round voted for Marine Le Pen backed Hollande. This is really amazing .Can you imagine a person voting first for Michelle Bachmann and after 15 days for Obama?
So maybe the actual weight of far right in Europe is overestimated.

An article worth reading:

Jeff said...

Cris, thanks for the link.

As you pointed out, there is a quote in there saying this about the blue collar (working class) vote:

This time 68% of them backed Mr Hollande (in the first round, most backed Ms Le Pen)...

Such voters like Ms Le Pen but are not naturally of the right. In the second round, her vote was split. According to a Viavoice poll for Libération, 54% of her first-round voters backed Mr Sarkozy, 28% abstained or cast a blank vote (as she had said she would) and 18% backed Mr Hollande. maybe Slate's article overstates the reach of the far right. Still, it looks like Marine Le Pen might be one to watch, as she seems to have more charisma than her father did, and Sarkozy's UMP Party lies in ruins. The National Assembly elections will be interesting to watch.