Welcome to 2016! Is it possible that this is the greeting in Europe, after the results of the presidential elections in France at the end of the week?
Is the most important election of the year in the EU likely to end in a shocking defeat at this great center of liberalism and Eurocentrism?
A day after Victor Orban won a fourth term, he retained his constitutional majority to do whatever he wanted and keep the hopes of populists and Putinists in the EU. This is a clear demonstration of what it means, after years of tolerance for his regime, to allow the state to take over the state to such an extent. His victory is likely to spark a small wave of migration from discouraged pro-European Hungarians, as well as encourage him to fund and strengthen his anti-liberal network across the union and the Western Balkans.
“Look at what happened to Brexit and many other elections – things that seemed incredible happened. Nothing is impossible,” said President Emmanuel Macron to a crowd of many thousands for his first major rally since the late start of his campaign.
“The danger of extremism has reached new heights, because, in recent months and years, hatred, and alternative truths have become normal. We are used to watching anti-Semites and racists on television,” he added.
The results of recent days show that Marin Le Pen’s popularity is growing, while Macron is forced to deal with Vladimir Putin and try to make him stop the war in Ukraine.
Data from the end of March on Harris Interactive – Toluna showed that in the first round on April 10, the president will collect 28% and Le Pen – about 21%, but this ratio is changing. Candidates with extreme political messages such as Eric Zemour and Jean-Luc Melanchon control another 25% of the vote. It is still predicted that Macron will defeat Le Pen with 54% of the vote in the runoff on April 24.
But if for some reason, she manages to come forward this Sunday, albeit with a small advance, it will be an unprecedented shock in French and European politics.
Macron is in a defensive position because he officially ran only last month, he was criticized for not having the “brilliance of a winner” in his campaign, and it suddenly turned out that the French were many times more interested in their economic future.
The announcement of plans for firm conservative measures such as raising the retirement age to 65 was hardly made at the right time (Le Pen and Melenchon promised to lower it to 60). A survey by Elabe showed that 70% were against such a reform (half said “very much against”), but 63% wanted pension money to be collected through higher taxes for wealthy households.
In a two-hour speech at a stadium near Paris, the president listed a long list of achievements and promised to create jobs in hospitals and nursing homes. He also stole an anti-capitalist slogan from the left, “Our lives are worth more than their profits.” In this way, he is trying to woo the left-wing electorate, which sociologists say has abstained from voting, most likely because the socialist political camp is hopelessly fragmented internally.
But Macron has not changed his reform agenda, which is based on the message that more work is needed to implement it, rather than raising taxes and accumulating new debt, which the pandemic has already brought to 102% of GDP.
With his social populism, Le Pen is taking advantage of the rapid rise in energy prices and rising inflation, and a price shock is yet to come due to the effects of Putin’s war in all key sectors of the European and world economy. Both households and companies are afraid of what is being asked.
A CEVIPOF-Science Po Paris survey found that 58% of respondents said prices and purchasing power would be important factors in choosing who to vote for in the presidential election. The change compared to the beginning of March is 6 points.
At the same time, fears of Russia’s aggression are declining, from 43% a month ago to 34% now. In two weeks, the political effect of the war decreased by 10 points – now only 23% of voters say that the candidates’ approach to what is happening in Ukraine will be a sign of their vote. Fears of a Russian nuclear strike in Europe are shrinking. This means that voters will like the one who offers them an answer to major problems with their well-being.
Some are swallowing up the pro-Russian course of the far-left Melenchon (15%), listening to his promises of social justice, tax cuts, and redistribution of economic benefits. Marine Le Pen spoke to them about VAT cuts, tax exemptions, higher wages, free transport for young employees, a “positive shock” in their purchasing power, and “giving the money back to the French”.
An analysis of its pre-election economic platform shows that at least two-thirds of it is left-wing policies. There has been no such share in the party’s platform since the mid-1980s. Only 21% remained on calls for less state intervention, a free market, and conservative reforms, while her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the party, gave them almost 80% 40 years ago.
The government of Jean Castex has activated an emergency plan with 26 billion euros to help energy costs of households and businesses and predicts a “prolonged crisis”. This move may not only meet the expectations in such times for more state intervention and protection but also eliminate the possibility that in the days before the vote the “yellow vests” of 2018 will be released.
Is this enough against Le Pen’s slogan “Between Emmanuel Macron and us, the choice is the strength of a few’s money and more purchasing power for all”? Sociologists show that for the time being she benefits from using the worries of her supporters by talking about “small people against big interests”, zero VAT for 100 basic products, and lower prices for low-income households.
The comparison with Brexit from 2016 is not appropriate, because there is remarkably little anti-European in the current campaign of all candidates. But there is a chance to see a similar vote from those attracted by social populism.
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