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Hoping for the internationalist victory in France

It may be the land of Voltaire, Benjamin Constant and Fréderic Bastiat, but it is rare that a liberal today can hope for much from the politics of modern France. In this case, in terms of who I hope to win the French presidential election, the first round tomorrow, I am considering negatives as much as positives. In 2007, I thought Nicolas Sarkozy, who represents Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the largest centre-right party in France, would bring the economic reforms France needed. He delivered on some of this program, such as raising the retirement age from 60 to 62, but he has otherwise been disappointing.

One of the dangers in times of recession is a rise in nativism. This manifests itself in a retreat to the nation at the political level. In economic terms, this is protectionism and a preference for produce of the country. But for any country to be competitive, it must be willing to compete in a global world. If French people are not buying enough French products, it is a signal that they must adjust either their quality or price. Firms seek to grow, and they can only expect foreign markets to be even less forgiving than those of their compatriots. This principle does apply at a European Union level, where President Nicolas Sarkozy wants a “But European Act”, but more so yet at a national level, where he would seek such a measure in lieu of European protectionism.

This then would alone make me reluctant to hope for the re-election of Sarkozy. But his nationalism has not been consigned to economic folly; as well as policies against foreign goods, he also seeks to make life in France difficult for foreign people, having said during this campaign that France has “too many foreigners on its soil”. The most benign interpretation is perhaps this is campaign rhetoric to stave off competition from the insidious Marine Le Pen, candidate for the National Front. But this is consistent with his deportation of Roma two years ago, without due process. Just as the case needs to be made for the merits of an open economy, the case should also be argued at the highest levels of the merits of immigration, in  manner which can promote the best of both diversity and integration, particularly in fight against the electoral success of extreme nationalists like Le Pen, who promote a particular brand of national identity; few are willing to do so, but from Sarkozy, we have seen the reverse.

So to a choice of one of two Françoises. I would ordinarily imagine myself politically close to François Bayrou, a candidate for the third time. He is now standing for the Democratic Movement, which identifies with Clinton–Blair Third Way politics. But I’ve really found little of inspiration from Bayrou this year. He has similarly fallen foul of protectionist measures, such as a “Buy French” label, and has had a lacklustre campaign. I wish him well tomorrow only in as much as I’d rather him to the two other middle tier candidates, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Left Front.

But my choice then of François Hollande of the Socialist Party is not simply one of a process of elimination. My main motivation is from the point of view and interest of someone not from France. In Ireland, we are conscious of the merits to breaking up the close partnership between Sarkozy and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are driving the economic and political agenda of European Union institutions. Hollande is growth-focused and seeks to amend the terms of the current agreement to include such a shift in emphasis. According to reporting by The Economist, Hollande is “steeling himself for a genuine fight ahead of the next European summit, on June 28th and 29th, and that he will not make do with a mere gesture”. This will not amend the Stability Treaty which we are voting on at the end of the May, but it will change the effect of its implementation. Hollande can expect the support of other leaders, including that of the Irish government, in this attempt.

Parts of Hollande’s platform, such as a 75% tax rate on income over €1.35 mn, are daft. But as the most outward-looking of the candidates, and the one who will shift the European Union in the most favourable direction, it is Hollande, the frontrunner in all polls, who I hope to see come first tomorrow and win in two weeks’ time.

The other candidates, who are expected to poll lower than any of the five discussed above, are:

  • Nathalie Arthaud, Workers’ Struggle
  • Jacques Cheminade, Solidarity and Progress, part of Lyndon LaRouche’s worldwide movement
  • Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Arise the Republic, conservative Eurosceptic
  • Eva Joly, Green
  • Philippe Poutou, New Anticapitalist Party

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