The wheel is turning and no one knows where the ball will stop, who will be the next president of France. This is the most important, and at the same time the most unpredictable, of elections. Not only for France but for Europe. France traditionally veers between long inertia and revolution, and we are at a point where growing numbers of voters are sick of the political elite yet, at the same time, don’t want any more change in their lives.
The framework of politics is not clear, definitions are not self-evident. Does “conservative” cover the effort to introduce reforms to a bankrupt system so that the economy can deal with the growing burdens of the social state? Can “revolution” define the extreme right and extreme left rejecting any change or demanding a return to an imagined past? Perhaps this time the revolutionaries are centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and the center-right’s Francois Fillon, who propose solutions after decades of inertia, whereas Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon, both of whom want a “renegotiation” of France’s relationship with the EU, are the true conservatives. The former dare to suggest painful solutions to complicated problems, while the latter peddle grand “visions” and gain ground.
As we have seen in several recent elections and referendums, the perils of a leap into the void do not deter voters who choose fantasy over reality.
The ideological framework, then, is murky. As are voters’ intentions. Polls show that the four leading candidates are within a breath of each other. However cautious we are with polls, it seems that we cannot rule out any result. If it does turn out that Macron and Le Pen win the most votes on Sunday, polls suggest that Macron will win easily. If Le Pen and Melenchon get through, the result on May 7 is less predictable – except for the panic that will rip through Europe.
The European Union was designed around a close relationship between France and Germany, to prevent another war and to provide the axis for the continent’s stability and prosperity. The experiment succeeded beyond all expectations but today, with the first problems, it is in danger. France’s exit from the euro, or even from the EU itself, would shake Europe to its core. We would not be able to rule out the danger of ever-growing nationalism leading to conflict again, between states, between ethnic and religious groups.
In Germany, where parliamentary elections will be held in September, few question the country’s relationship with Europe and the EU’s cohesion is not at stake. In France, though, the election of one person can trigger developments that will determine the future of Europe, of each of its citizens. This is not French roulette. It is Russian.