Increasing right-wing populism is making the world more inward looking, protectionist and hostile to the anti-people movement between the countries.

And the just concluded French presidential election, with a liberal pitted against a far-right candidate, was also being seen in this context. A far-right victory in France, one of the major global powers, socially, economically and militarily, would have been another major setback for the liberal politics.

And though France has given its answer, we need to go beyond mere stats. Though France has elected a liberal candidate with a thumping majority who had based his election campaign on everything antithesis to the far-right promises of his rival candidate, the far-right, too has got a sizable chunk of votes.

France’s president elect Emmanuel Macron who had launched his centrist political movement En Marche! just a year ago in April 2016 and has had a political career of just five years, won 66 per cent of the votes, almost twice of her far-right rival Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FP) who got 34 per cent votes.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right FN had exploited social insecurity owing to high unemployment rate in France that is hovering around 10 per cent, a number of terror attacks that have killed over 230 in the last two years and a troubled economy with years of sluggish growth rate. She said globalisation and Islamism were two major threats France was facing.

Her remedy to save France from the threats of terrorism, unemployment and troubles of economy were classic far-right.

She blamed globalisation and the European Union and promised to take France out of the EU, the Euro and the passport free travel zone Schengen Area. She promised to crackdown on immigration to save France from Islamic terror and joblessness. The biggest refugee crisis that the world is witnessing since the World War II with hordes of people from the civil war torn countries trying to cross into the safe territory of the European countries only added to the sense of social insecurity – with terrorism and high unemployment in the backdrop. A section of French population believes that it will be detrimental to the French culture.

These are exactly the attributes the right wing politics is explained with – protectionism, anti-globalization (anti-EU or Euroskepticism in case of the EU), nationalism and ultra-nationalism, anti-immigration and nativism or ethnic preferences. France is known for its liberal values, politics and social life, something that Le Pen had vowed to upturn, with her attempted grab of populism by adopting tough anti-globalization, anti-immigration, anti-Euro and anti-Islamism measures.

And when she performed exceedingly well in the first round of the French presidential election on April 23, coming close second to Macron’s 23.8 per cent with her 21.5 per cent votes, bypassing all other nine candidates including the Socialist and the Republican Party candidates who have ruled over France for decades, it came as shock for many.

Though Macron was projected to win the polls, the first round results presented a very real chance for Le Pen to emerge as winner, especially if voters of the Socialist and the Republican parties decided to boycott the polls with no socialist or republican candidate in the fray. And the figures of abstentions and rejected votes – as high as 36 per cent – tells us that many of them, indeed, did not support Macron.

And even if Macron has registered a spectacular win, we cannot dismiss the fact that Le Pen’s vote share tells us that over 30 per cent of the France now identifies with the right-wing politics, that is highest for any far-right party in any major country in the world. And she has vowed to take her political journey forward.

And if Macron fails, she is bound to make a bigger come back. Macron has inherited a divided France, hanging between conflicting ideologies. He has no time and has to be on the job from day one to fulfill his campaign promises of taking France out of economic stagnation, create jobs, tackle terrorism and balance immigration. And he has to do all that keeping in mind that even his campaign saw violent protests and anger in the streets.



The article originally appeared on India Today.
Here it is bid modified and extended.

If elected, at 39, Emmanuel Macron would be the youngest president in the French electoral history. Before it, Napoleon Bonaparte’s 40-year old nephew Louis Bonaparte was elected in 1848. France is holding its second and final run-off round of presidential election today. By tomorrow, the outcome will become clear on who has won the polls though it will be officially declared on May 11. According to pre-poll projections, he is set to win the election with all the surveys giving him a lead of 20-23 per cent over his rival Marine Le Pen.

Macron, whose rise in French politics is described as meteoric, sounds like an unusual politician who holds his ground for what he believes in. He is unabashedly pro-European Union and pro-free immigration. He is a staunch believer in globalization and advocates for common Eurozone budget. He has apologised for the French colonial legacy, especially in Algeria, likening it to “crime against humanity” and believes in integration and assimilation of Muslims to tackle the rising spectre of Islamist fundamentalism, and therefore terrorism, in France.

He has not taken a comfortable middle way to skirt his views by using diplomatic words, especially after the rise of Marine Le Pen, her rival from the Front National (FN) with a far-right ideology, who has risen to become an important pillar in the French politics exploiting people’s scepticism and fear against the EU, globalization, immigration and linking terrorism and Islamism after spate of terror strikes in France that has killed over 200 in last two years. Le Pen sees globalization and Islamism as two major threats for France while Macron quotes in his speeches the disorder that Brexit has brought to Britain and Donald Trump’s election to America, attacking the far-right ideology directly, two events that Le Pen finds capable of creating a new world. Le Pen promises taking France out of the EU while Macron talks about France’s greater integration in the EU.

The incumbent French president Francois Hollande from the centre-left Socialist Party (PS) brought Macron in politics. Macron was member of the Socialist Party from 2006 to 2009. In 2009, he became an independent politician. In 2012 when Hollande became the president and the Socialist Party got majority in the National Assembly, he became member of Hollande’s personal staff. In August 2014, he was appointed a minister to oversee economy, industry and digital affairs in prime minister Manuel Valls government.

He was going strong and was seen as the political protégé of Hollande with a prime career ahead. But no one had expected that it would come so soon. In an orthodox move, he left his political office in April 2016, his formed En March! (EM), that he called a political movement that translates to ‘on the move’. His supporters liken the event with ‘birth’ when Macron had announced to form the EM. In August 2016, Macron resigned from the Valls government to take a plunge in the presidential elections.

And within eight months, he has become the presidential candidate with highest ratings who looks poised to win the election when the results are finally announced. Macron emerged with the largest vote share in the first round of the French presidential polls held on April 23, according to the pre poll projections.

Macron won the first round with a narrow margin. He secured 23.8 per cent votes while his rival, Marine Le Pen of came a close second with 21.5 per cent votes. The polls go to the second and run-off round when no candidate is able to secure 50 per cent of the votes in the first round, something that has never happened.

Macron has also won the televised debated between him and Marine Le Pen, held on May 3, comfortably, with 63% viewers finding him more convincing. And for the final rounds, all pre-poll surveys have given him a 60-40 lead over Le Pen. Some surveys have reported even higher a gap.

His campaign’s emails and documents were hacked on Friday and were leaked online, hours before the campaigning ended. But it is not expected to affect the final outcome as there was literally no time to use it as election propaganda material. Also the election commission in France has issued stern warning to disseminate it further.

Like his political decisions, he has taken an unconventional approach even to his personal life. He is married to his teacher, Brigitte Trogneux, who is 24 years older than him. When they began courtship, she was married and was a mother of three. She left her husband and married Macron in 2007.

Born to doctor parents, Macron is a philosophy and public affairs graduate. He is an alumnus of the prestigious National School of Administration which has given three French presidents including Hollande. He was in the French Civil Services from 2004 to 2008 when he left his government career to join Rothschild as an investment banker that made him a millionaire.

He has been able to present himself as a youthful source of energy with fresh perspectives in the ongoing political discourse in the country. And the rewards, so far, have been quick and stunning. And now there are very real chances that we are going to see the next French president in him when the results are announced on May 11 after the final round of the French presidential election today.



The article originally appeared on India Today. 

In an election, where the two mainstream French political parties, the centre-left Socialist Party (PS), with its government in Paris under French president Francois Hollande, and the centre-right Republicans (LR), have failed to reach the final round of the presidential polls, history will be written on May 7 when France will vote to choose between two top candidates from the first round of elections held on April 23.

Emmanuel Macron won the first round with a narrow margin. He secured 23.8 per cent votes while his rival, Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National (FN) party, came a close second with 21.5 per cent votes. The polls go to the second and run-off round when no candidate is able to secure 50 per cent of the votes in the first round, something that has never happened.

France that is known for its liberal values, politics and social life, will either have its youngest president in Emmanuel Macron who is 39 and who formed his political party, En Marche (EM), that translates to ‘on the move’, just a year ago. In fact, according to an analysis by The Economist, it would be the first time in the history of the major western economies, i.e., United States, Germany, Britain and France, that a leader younger than the median age of the country has been elected, if Macron, indeed, emerges as the winner. Macron is two years younger than the median  age in France.

Or France will have a far-right candidate in Marine Le Pen, 48, in the Elysee Palace, the official residence of the French president, who will take France out of the European Union and who has vowed to upturn the liberal credentials of France by adopting tough anti-globalization, anti-immigration, anti-Euro measures and anti-Islamism measures.

She, in fact, sees globalization and Islamism as major threats against France. She finds the two helping each other and conspiring to bring France down. Her election manifesto has promised to curb immigration, even the legal one, and says the citizenship can only be “inherited or merited”. She keeps the Brexit in the hallowed halls of the fall of the Berlin Wall. She also describes Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election as an importation building block toward making a new world.

For the moment, Macron looks set to win the election on May 7. He has won the televised debated between him and Marine Le Pen, held on May 3, comfortably, with 63% viewers finding him more convincing. And for the final rounds, all pre-poll surveys have given him a 60-40 lead over Le Pen.



The article originally appeared on India Today.

Just three days before the second and final round of the French presidential polls, centrist Emmanuel Macron of the En Marche! (EM) party have emerged as the clear winner of the televised debate between him and far-right Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN) party.

A survey on the televised debate by Elabe, a research and consultancy firm, for the largest French broadcaster BFM TV, also a CNN affiliate, found that Macron who was already running ahead of Le Pen with higher ratings, further consolidated his position after the debate.

In the debate, watched by over 16.5 million people, that lasted for two-and-a-half hour and has been described as the ugliest one in the French presidential election history, Macron emerged as the clear winner with 63 per cent of viewers finding him more convincing than Le Pen.

According to a The Guardian report, the French media termed it a “dirty debate” with its criticism targeted at Marine Le Pen for her ‘permanent aggression’ and unconvincing words. The consensus read that Le Pen tried to avoid a serious debate with her “multiple attacks and provocations” and therefore, made the debate “unworthy of a presidential election campaign”.

Invectives, smirks, insinuations and personal insults had a free run. Macron described Le Pen as corrupt, ill-informed, hate-filled liar and said that her ultra-nationalism and her contempt for globalization and Islamism will be detrimental for the French society. Le Pen is a known European Union hater and has vowed to crackdown on Islamism. Le Pen, in turn, found him “an arrogant, spoilt, cold-eyed, “smirking banker” who was colluding with Islamists, complacent on terrorism and intent on “butchering France” in favour of “big economic interests”, the report said.

The final round of the French presidential polls are just two days away and Macron looks in a comfortable position to sail through. Majority of polls before the Sunday’s final round are giving Macron a 40-60 lead. An Elabe analysis says Macron is expected to get 65 per cent of the final round votes.

The first round of the French presidential polls were held on April 23 and the top two contenders from the 11 in the fray moved to the second and final round run-off. Emmanuel Macron was on top with 23.8 per cent votes in the first round and Le Pen was a close second with 21.5 per cent votes. The polls go to the second round when no candidate is able to secure 50 per cent of the votes in the first round, something that has never happened. Since April 23, Macron has firmed up his position and he is also expected to corner left-leaning, centrist-right and other anti-Le Pen votes in the final round.

Emmanuel Macron is just 39 and his political career is just five years old. He was the Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs before he resigned in August 2016 to form the EM party. So his party has no political representation but he has an opportunity as the French legislative elections are due in June 2017 to elect the next French National Assembly.

Marine Le Pen, 48, is a lawyer and career politician and has inherited her party FN from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, the highly controversial and polarizing figure of French politics who is known for his extreme far-right ideology. Though she has tried to distance herself from her father’s extreme views, in order to widen her base, going by the ratings so far, and her radical views on issues like globalization, Islamism and terrorism and immigration, it seems see has failed to make a genuine course correction.



The article originally appeared on India Today.

Maine Le Pen, the Far Right candidate in the French presidential election, who has very real chances to win like any other major candidate, has reiterated her scepticism about the European Union (EU) again, just less than a week before the decisive second round of the French presidential polls on May 7. The first round of polls of April 23 remained inconclusive with no one getting majority including the top contenders, centrist Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.

Le Pen has said that if elected, she will hold a referendum to take France out of the EU. Leaving the Euro currency and the Schengen travel zone, a passport less free travel zone of 26 European countries, have also been Le Pen’s consistent promises. If that happens, that would be a shock for the EU that may hasten its demise, because unlike the United Kingdom (UK), that has announced to leave the EU after a successful referendum on the issue, France is the founder member of the EU and had formed the Union in 1951 along with Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Other countries joined it later on.

After the UK’s exit, a French exit would further chop the size of the EU economy. According to the World Bank data, the European Union GDP in 2015 was $16.315 trillion in nominal terms, i.e., GDP evaluated at current market prices without accounting for inflationary changes. The European Union is a block of 28 European countries with the UK in the process of leaving it, a development that has come to be known as ‘Brexit’.

If we see GDPs of major economies of the EU separately, we find five EU economies with their GDPs above $1 trillion. Germany is the largest European and EU economy in terms of nominal GDP with a GDP of $3.36 trillion. It is also the world’s fourth largest economy. Next comes the UK with $2.86 trillion, the world’s fifth largest economy and Europe’s second largest, based on the 2015 GDP figures. But the UK is no more an EU economy now and it has officially begun the process to leave the EU.

That makes France the second largest EU economy with a GDP of $2.42 trillion. France is the world’s sixth largest economy. Italy and Spain are the other two major EU economies in the trillion dollar club with GDPs of $1.82 trillion and $1.19 trillion respectively.

The combined GDPs of these five major economies are $11.65 trillion. In comparison, all other EU economies are like minnows with their combined GDPs not crossing even the $5 trillion mark.

Now if the UK and France leave the EU, two economies worth $5.28 trillion will be off the EU coffers. Experts are still divided, in the European countries and the UK, on how the Brexit will shape the EU’s and the UK’s economies. But going by a report in the Guardian, the Brexit could harm the EU if not negotiated to protect the ‘financial eco-system’ of which the City of London is the driver.

“UK-based financial services account for 40% of Europe’s assets under management and 60% of its capital markets business. And UK-based banks provide more than £1.1tn of loans to the other EU member states,”, the Guardian report says, quoting a leaked EU report. The report further says that if such a deal is not reached at, “the economies of the remaining member states will be damaged”.

Imagine this is the case when the UK is exiting the EU. In case of France, it would be a double whammy, because Germany and France are seen as the political heavyweights of the EU, and France being a founding member of the EU, its exit will send a message to the other nations like Poland and Hungary, who have shown willingness to limit the role of the EU in their countries due to their socio-political compulsions, to completely withdraw from the Union. While the effects of the Brexit are being discussed in terms of a financial eco-system, a French exit from the EU will have its social and political angles as well.

Besides, France is as large an economy as the UK is and is as influential globally as the UK is. The country has been more vocal, in fact than the rest of the EU majors, when it comes to taking positions in geopolitical matters, be it Libya or Syria or Iraq or its ongoing operations against the Islamic State (IS). If that voice is lost, the EU will certainly lose the geopolitical weight that it carries right now. It will then be a Germany centric bloc of countries only. The EU may be based on the principle of economic cooperation, but political influence of its major economies is the glue that it needs to keep its flock together.