2016 has certainly been a peculiar year. From the Brexit referendum to the election of Donald Trump as the next American President, it has been characterized by the surge of anti-establishment parties and candidates and by the systematic failure of polls and effort to foresee what would happen.
From the point of view of the European Union, it appears to be weakened by these unpredictable, and unpredicted, events that have caused the (future) loss of one of its most important members (in economic terms) and of a reliable ally on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. On the other hand, they have also shaken the European institutions, awakening the ones that felt that Europe could have survived as it is and restoring the efforts of greater pushes towards integration.
In that sense, the project to create a unified European Army, thus with a unique military expenditure, has been certainly strengthened by this new fear of a drawback in the evolution of EU.
However, there are at least three central events, in our near future, that are going to influence the destiny of the Union, which are the Italian referendum, the Austrian Presidential election and the French one.
Among these, from a European point of view, the most important one is definitely the French election. Next spring, the main parties will “fight” for the presidential position and the main contestants will be the Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party), Les Républicains (the Republicans) and Front National (National Front).
But, given that this setting has nothing strange with respect to the previous years, why should we worry so much for this event? Well, that is because it will not be a “usual” election for mainly two reasons.
The first one is the difficult situation that the Socialist Party is experiencing. Francois Hollande, actual French President and leader of the party, has the lowest approval rate ever obtained by a French President, that is around 4% . After a lot of pressures from the rest of his party, at the beginning of the month of December, Hollande declared that he will not be the socialist candidate paving the way for the actual Prime Minister Valls, who may have some real chance of competing against the Republicans. Moreover, the weakness of the Socialists is not only caused by the generalized distrust towards the President but also by the rise of a new possible political competitor, that is the new movement of Emmanuel Macron, “En Marche”. Macron, former minister of economy in the second Valls cabinet, on 30th of August resigned from his position in order to develop his political project and on 16th November officially announced his candidacy to the election. His program, though not yet very clear, is based on the surpass of the historical confrontation between “left” and “right” and aims to a liberal outlook to try to “unblock” France and address the problems of Globalization, avoiding a total closure of the country.
Because of the similar ideological base and of the general disappointment among the electors of the Socialist Party towards their president, he is thought to be a major danger for the socialists, as he may attract part of their electoral base.
The second major element of novelty in this election is, of course, the Front National, not in the sense that it is a “new” political actor, but because, for the first time, it has a realistic chance to win the presidency.
On one hand, it is true that the Front National has already scored an important result in the 2002 election, when Jean-Marie Le Pen passed the first turn with 16.86% of the votes and was then defeated by the conservative nominee Jacques Chirac, who obtained a landslide victory thanks to the contribution of all mainstream voters. However, on the other one, that result was due to the fact that the left was not able to form a coalition and split the electorate among several candidates, causing Mr. Le Pen to emerge as the second most voted nominee. At the time, the Front National was recognized as an extreme right party, with linkages to fascist ideology, and Mr. Le Pen himself often used inappropriate language to gather support against minorities and redistributive economic plans. On the contrary, today’s Front National has a radically different outlook. Marine Le Pen (daughter of Jean-Marie) has succeeded in broadening the electoral base of her party leaving behind the quasi-fascist rhetoric and including a lot of leftist proposals in its program. In fact, she directly addressed the traditional electorate of the left, the blue collars and the poor unskilled workers, taking advantage of the crisis that the Socialist Party is undergoing.
Given this situation, all the attention falls on the Republican nominee, Mr. Fillon that won the primaries against the former president Sarkozy and finally defeated Mr. Juppe on Sunday the 28th .
Mr. Fillon has a clear conservative program, more right-wing than the one proposed by Mr. Juppe, centred on the increase of working hours and the reduction of public aids to workers. He also proposes a harsher line towards security and social issues, like LBGT rights and acceptance of minorities, that could gain the favour of part of the Front National’s electorate .
Polls show that Mr. Fillon is likely to win in a runoff election against Mrs. Le Pen, but if this year has taught us something is that we should never take anything for granted. The only thing that we may predict with a high degree of certainty is the collapse of the French moderate left, that will end up either in a conservative and more independent president, either in what could be the first pace to a “Frexit”.