The Decline of the West; the destiny of Western civilization; the unraveling of the EU; the future of democracy itself. All stops are pulled when it comes to how the French presidential elections will shape the geopolitics of a young and turbulent 21st century.
And it’s about to come down to the fate of three men and one woman – not exactly rising to the occasion, rather overwhelmed by it.
The run-up to the first round this coming Sunday turned out to be an immensely entertaining Gallic House of Cards.
On the right, burdened by his massive unpopularity, the conqueror of Libya, former president Nicolas Sarkozy, a.k.a. Sarko The First, was eliminated right from the get-go alongside the conservative favorite, Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé.
The winner of the right’s primaries was former Prime Minister François Fillon – emblem of provincial Catholic France drenched in uncompromising neoliberalism (low corporate taxes mixed with an assault on social welfare). But just when Fillon seemed to be comfortably cruising towards a second round victory, he was spectacularly derailed back in January by pugnacious satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé; a mysterious source, with devilish timing, took Mr Clean to the cleaners.
That was the start of Penelopegate – featuring Fillon’s discreet Welsh wife arguably pocketing a small fortune as his parliamentary “assistant” when in fact she was firmly ensconced at home. Now Fillon is even facing possible criminal charges for fraud.
Throughout the saga, the key narrative never changed. National Front’s Marine LePen – re-christened “Marine” – had been leading virtually all first-round polls since 2013. But it was inconceivable that she would win in the second round, because whoever does make it would have the backing of the entire French establishment and mainstream media to “defend the values of the Republic.” The “Republic” is a very serious matter: after all, the left-vs-right ideological battle the burns at the heart of Western politics was forged in France.
At least, that was the state of affairs until a few days ago when the (terrified) Goddess of the Market and her myriad acolytes started to contemplate the unimaginable: a Marine versus Mélenchon “populist” showdown – or roughly the extreme right versus the extreme left.
Advancing slowly but surely from the hard left flank, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, freemason, former Trotskyite, former Socialist Party (which he left in 2008) and now self-declared independent under La France Insoumise (“Insubordinate France”), is now positioned as a serious contender, even supported by reams of serious economists.
We’re so disgusted
It’s fascinating to see how close they are on foreign policy. Like Marine – and Fillon – Mélenchon is not a Russophobe. He would applaud Fillon, who’s in favor of protecting Christians in Syria, which translates into “Assad may stay.” And unlike the official Socialist Party candidate, Benoît Hamon, a.k.a. “Dumbo” for café cynics, but in tandem with Marine, Mélenchon wants France out of the euro and Nato.
Marine for her part calls for the end of the Paris-backed CFA franc as a means of handing out economic independence to no less than 14 former nations – French business interests are not amused. She is also keen on maintaining France’s high-quality social services and wide-ranging workers’ rights. On domestic issues, she even qualifies as left of Fillon. France’s health, unemployment and other social benefits soak up the equivalent of more than 30% of GDP, compared with less than 25% in Germany. Try to curtail them, and France will be back to the barricades.
Marine is a formidable political animal. Backed by her close advisor Florian Philippot, she quickly ditched her quite embarrassing pro-Vichy, anti-Semite father Jean-Marie, and aimed straight at the working class vote. Yet her main motto is still immigration, equalized with infiltration of Islamist terror. In her latest one-minute promo, she sails a magnificent yacht to the uncharted waters of … Frexit?
Mélenchon, displaying a great sense of humor, largely won the two televised debates – a larger-than-life seven hour and twenty minutes marathon. That was even though Fillon was the only one who conveyed the impression he actually knew what he was talking about. Unlike the US, political debates in France can be extremely articulate, and real policy is discussed in detail. It helps that TV time freely available to all candidates means less pressure from the usual corporate/financial interests.
This opens windows to let some local color flood in – the affectionately termed “little candidates” who range from the idyllic pastoral to the urban hardcore anti-capitalist, but also visionaries who propose a New Bretton Woods, France embarking on China’s New Silk Roads, African co-development, closer relations with the BRICS, and of course Frexit and no-Nato. Needless to add, mainstream media ignores them all.
Mélenchon’s current, unstoppable rise reflects the average citizen’s disgust with the whole “system.” He is betting on a sort of third way beyond neoliberal globalization and protectionist nationalism. That implies strong – owned and provided – public services; a mostly green economy; and no financialization. The “system” will never let it pass.
The total package
The key question is who will capture the bulk of the working class vote. Certainly it won’t be the darling of the neoliberal galaxy, baby boy Emmanuel Macron, now in full De Gaulle mode (“neither left nor right”).
Macron – aptly described by Fillon as “Emmanuel Hollande” – is a dream electoral product; a smiling neoliberal wolf in sheep’s navy blazers, brimming with blind ambition, pro-EU, pro-Nato, extolling “pragmatism” and meticulously packaged as the shock of the new.
Enter Mimi Marchand – who may be the key, unsung character in this election. Mimi is the queen of the paparazzi in Paris – in charge of molding the public persona of top celebrities. It was Mimi – very cozy with Macron’s wife, Brigitte – who concocted a by now notorious pic on the beach in Hawaii, complete with Brigitte in bikini, to sell the future First Couple of France to the glitz-blitzkrieged masses.
Macron’s main guru is Jacques Attali, who almost single-handedly converted the former Socialists into hardcore neoliberals. Macron is deeply embedded in the French establishment; Saint-Simon Foundation, the Terra Nova think tank, close to the Rothschild banking dynasty.
Before his entrance to the Élysée Palace as a protégé of Jean-Pierre Jouyet – a revolving door pro, minister for Sarkozy and secretary-general of the Palace for Hollande – Macron enjoyed a cozy job at Rothschild. Then he was made Young Leader at the French-American Foundation; Research Fellow at the London School of Economics; was invited to Bilderberg; and finally, last year, Saint-Simon Foundation/Terra Nova created his political party, En marche! (Let’s go!).
Up to early 2017, that was a party with no program/platform; just a shell for the Macron hologram. In the first presidential debate, he was widely mocked because he agreed with everybody. In the second, Marine eviscerated him; he had spoken “for seven minutes, uninterrupted”, and still she wouldn’t understand a thing. Who cares? The top six French media moguls all support the neoliberal hologram.
The same applies for French Big Business – and the City of London (before he was enthroned as the brand new Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital affairs in 2014, Hollande sent Macron on a secret mission to the City to reassure bankers everything was business as usual.)
Macron’s secret is how he embeds the concept of “competitiveness”. To attract investment capital, French labor costs must come down. Thus the need for more immigration. Once again; identity politics rules – with immigration morally justified as “humanitarian.” So there’s no difference between the Democrats in the US and the Socialists in France. The name of their Nato candidate is actually Emmanuel Clinton.
Conversations with EU diplomats reveal that the Nato deep state is confident of being in control of the narrative. The French establishment is now as Russophobic as in the US. Marine, who vows to protect voters from “savage globalization,” is being dismissed as “the candidate of Moscow.” But that could also apply to Mélenchon and Fillon.
So, les jeux sont faits – as in the parlance of Monaco croupiers? Not really. As much as the industrial-military-intelligence-security-media complex has chosen Emmanuel Clinton, the winner of the first round may well be Mr Abstention – especially among the young. Those who thrive in unmanageable chaos – London bookmakers included – are already betting on a Marine-Mélenchon cage match.