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The Stakes of the French Presidency

The culmination of a war in a new frontier with greater relevance than ever before stands before us. The fate of millions across Europe and the Sahel hangs in balance on this monumental exercise of democracy: the election for France’s President.

This is perhaps France’s most consequential election in decades – we, after all, no longer live in an era of sustained peace and a fairly united and static political front. Battlegrounds across six key issues have emerged between the two remaining challengers in the race – Europe, Immigration, NATO, Sahel, Ukraine, and France’s history of atrocities. The two challengers – Centrist incumbent, Macron, and the far-right Le Pen occupy almost opposite aisles on each of these issues.

“Mémoire”, as issues of addressing France’s colonial past are known in its polity, resembles much of the same rhetoric found in the United States, i.e. the left (or centrist) party wishing to remunerate in some form the culture, heritage and opportunities lost to centuries of colonial rule and the atrocities which accompany it, while the right-leaning party blocks all progress under the guise of the perpetuation of self-hatred or division, rather ironically. This very scenario applies here in France, where an increasingly nationalist polity and the development of robust far-left and far-right political forces combine to place heavy scrutiny of Macron’s agenda of the restitution of the countries France colonised.

Similar issues are faced with respect to Immigration, wherein Le Pen’s calls for active discrimination on the basis of nationality with respect to government aid and deportation calls in the aftermath of the 2014 Refugee Crisis have shifted the Overton window significantly enough to influence Macron’s position, who has notably become more stringent on his stance. Le Pen, on the other hand, is strictly anti-immigration, and has in fact made it a key part of her agenda, appealing to blue-collar industrial workers and other lower-skilled jobs ravaged by the influx of immigrants willing to work for lower wages and thus demolishing the sensitive labour market.

With regards to the four foreign policy issues – Europe, NATO, Ukraine, and Sahel – Le Pen, with the virtue of being a proxy of Russian Institutions and its Oligarchs, has increasingly adopted an isolationist stance which directly augments the vested interests of the Russian contributors to her campaign. She wishes to leave the Integrated Command of NATO, avoid intervention in the Sahel where France has traditionally been an enforcer of stability by the virtue of its influence as a past coloniser, remain neutral (effectively pro-Russia) on the Ukraine issue, and has only recently began condemning the events in Ukraine in any way, still half-heartedly. She, in fact, denied the existence of an invasion of Crimea in 2017. Macron, on the other hand, while certainly engaging in diplomacy with the Kremlin, has remained firmly with Zelensky and Ukraine, supporting broader multilateral actions targeting Russia. While Le Pen has certainly mellowed down her rhetoric on the EU, she still remains opposed to it, wishing for a “National Superiority Law” to be passed, which would in practice significantly reduce the powers of the EU in France, approaching close to a “Frexit”. Macron, on the other hand, sees the EU as a locomotive for furthering his other goals with respect to National Security, Immigration, and Climate Change, and as such has supported further integration.

Ultimately, the election is consequential for determining the future of the European Union and thus the future of the West as a unified bloc, as it is already on the brink of collapse with pressure from Far-Right, Ethnonationalist forces in Eastern Europe, and now France. Millions in Africa who depend on France for regional stability may see a further dwindling of aid from Paris which has already seen a dwindling of support for enforcement in the region across the aisle.

Irrespective of who takes the helm, the polarized France we know today will be a mighty beast to tame. As Charles de Gaulle famously remarked, « Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage ? » (How will someone govern a country with 246 varieties of Cheese?)

(Updated as of 25 April, 2022)


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