Populism and the French election

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury | Update:

There are obvious dangers of having too much populism and nationalism in politics especially in the western world.  Europe’s immense sufferings in many of the devastating wars, including both the world wars, in the nineteenth and twentieth century are ascribed to these two features. Therefore, post World War II politics in the western world largely discarded these two elements and went on to socio-economic issues. Sometimes it was about ideologies especially in the cold war context.

Instead of nationalistic isolation Europe and North America focused on integration. European Union has attained so much of the latter that it has become almost a super-state. North Americans created NAFTA. However, the election of populist Donald Trump in the US and Britain’s decision to leave the EU through a referendum alarmed the sustainability of post-communist neoliberal world order. The nationalistic and isolationist tone of the new American president and the conservative government of Great Britain raised the danger of a spillover effect on the other western liberal vanguards. And there were already some grounds for that.

In France, the National Front emerged as a conservative nationalist party advocating economic protectionism, reversing integration of EU, very strict anti immigration policies, etc. Their leader Marine La Pen even wants a Frexit i.e. French exit from EU emulating the Brexit, despite the fact that France was one of the few founding members of EU and its precursor. EU essentially is known as a grand Franco-German project.

Almost the entire world breathed a sigh of relief with the win of centrist Emmanuel Macron in the very recent French presidential election. Had Marine La Pen been elected, that could have spelled the end of EU, at least in its present form. And it would also have strengthened the anti globalisation momentum that Donald Trump is trying to create across the Atlantic, hence putting global trade, investments and growth in huge peril.

Macron’s win has resisted that wave in mainland Europe at least for now. It was initially halted in the Netherlands where the anti immigration and anti EU nationalist failed to gain much traction. After the frustration of Brexit, this survival of  pro EU and liberal politics will definitely raise some hope and will have positive impact in the very important German election.

For Emmanuel Macron though, it won’t be an easy task to govern France given the fact that economy is stagnant and unemployment is relatively high. Moreover, he just had a meteoric political rise under the banner of a new centrist party that nobody expected.  It will be a tricky business for him to manage the two traditional major, center right and center left, blocs in the parliament as his own party is still too small a one. There was a noticeable rise of support for the ultra left candidate too in this presidential election, indicating that political cleavage in France is multifarious.

Perhaps, the only hope is that, France is matured a society and  mainstream French politicians are expected to behave in a responsible way .They will probably not  make Macron fail deliberately and grant National Front further prominence. France has historically been the cradle of enlightenment and modernism. The fall of France from the liberal order will have enormous negative effect in Europe and in the rest of the world.

*Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is a freelance contributor on politics, society and international relations. Currently, he works for BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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