OPINION

Macron vs Le Pen and the West’s shortcomings

Macron vs Le Pen and the West’s shortcomings

Proponents of liberal democracy in France – but also in Europe and the rest of the world – obviously want to see incumbent Emmanuel Macron win the French presidential election.

It is understandable and to be expected that most politicians and voters of the “traditional” political system, and not only them, look forward to his re-election. In public statements the leaders of these parties urged their voters not to support Marine Le Pen in the April 24 runoff.

Macron’s relatively comfortable lead in the first round brought relief and hope to a large section of the French population, but also to France’s European Union partners. As the country heads to round two, the narrative is boiling down to a battle against populism, the far-right and xenophobia.

But things are not so black and white. We’re not dealing with a good vs evil situation. Half the French people are not far-right fascists, even if some polls give Le Pen 46-49% in the runoff, with her winning also being a possibility.

The equation is obviously more complicated. The existing system of liberal democracies, as embodied by center-right or center-left governments or by coalitions covering a large ideological range, cannot satisfy the needs of the average person.

Unemployment, rising inequality, the many dead ends faced by Western societies, have led to reactions – with the French election being the most recent and resounding case in fact – against the way the system operates, at the national and supranational – in this case European – level.

The anti-systemic wave is huge and is not coming just from the right of the political spectrum (Le Pen and Eric Zemmour together accounted for more than 30%), but also from the left.

The radical-left candidate – a former Socialist party member and minister and founder of the party La France Insoumise – Jean-Luc Melenchon took 22%, narrowly losing second place and the right to run in the second round.

Melenchon’s significant percentage – on the back of his professed battle for a more democratic Europe – is important in its own right, especially given that an Ipsos survey found that roughly a quarter of the leftist first-round voters will cast their ballot for Le Pen in the second, while half said they won’t be voting at all.

Be it from the right or the left, the question being asked is how democratic, socially responsive, transparent and effective are the governments of EU member-states and the European Union itself. And all this skepticism is not receding at this time of economic hardship, inflation, the pandemic, and a war on European soil.

After the Americans elected Donald Trump and the British voted to leave the EU, it is now the turn of the French to react to the system’s shortcomings. The EU is in trouble from the incompetence and even arrogance of many leaders, and Macron is at risk of becoming a victim of rising frustration at the system’s failure to respond to the basic needs and demands of advanced Western societies.