Right-wing populists just made electoral gains of over 1,000 percent in this western democracy
By: Rachel Marsden
PARIS — French voters have just fired a major warning shot over the bow of
the global establishment. You know, the one that meets at the World Economic
Forum in Davos, Switzerland, each year and sings from the same hymn book on
everything from censorship and immigration to technological surveillance and
President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Together coalition lost so many seats in last Sunday’s French parliamentary election that he no longer enjoys the absolute majority which has allowed him to ram through his agenda with impunity since 2017. The biggest winners are the anti-establishment parties on both the right and left, as conventional parties continue their slide into political oblivion.
Marine Le Pen’s right-wing populist National Rally party increased its seats from eight to 89 in the 577-member National Assembly. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-wing populist New Ecologic and Social People’s Union, comprised of various leftist and green factions, nabbed 131 seats.
Taken together, the populist element of France’s parliament now totals 220 seats — just 69 short of an absolute majority needed for free reign to be in total control of French lawmaking. Just a decade ago, that would have been unimaginable.
Macron’s party is now left with 245 seats, and the challenge of cobbling together enough votes from the other parties (while not losing any support from its own unwhipped representatives) in order to achieve the president’s policy objectives.
The biggest losers are the establishment. The onetime powerhouse establishment-left Socialist Party of former President Francois Mitterrand, has entirely disappeared from the French political scene as an entity unto itself. Meanwhile, the establishment-right Les Républicains party — the political family of Presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy — is now down to just 61 seats.
Various experts are now referring to France as “ungovernable.” All it really means is that Macron won’t be able to do whatever he wants. Just as well. Because recent pre-election polling suggests that Macron is out of touch with what voters really want.
Buying power was overwhelmingly the most important issue on voters’ minds, followed by health care, retirement, and immigration. Some of the issues judged the least important to the French are Ukraine, Europe, and gender equality, according to a Harris Interactive poll from June 10.
In other words, Macron was destined to take a hit for the loss of French citizens’ buying power as a result of going along with NATO’s policy of ramping up tension (and weapons) on the Russia-Ukraine border that ultimately set off that military conflict and gave rise to EU-wide anti-Russian sanctions leading to crippling inflation and energy prices.
Macron was also bound to get smacked for heavy-handed mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis, with issues like mandatory jabs for all personnel having led to a critical shortage of workers. About 15,000 unjabbed healthcare workers remain suspended, according to the former health minister, Olivier Véran, despite the staffing crunch.
Macron’s plans to raise the French retirement age from 62 to 65 might seem reasonable at first glance to an outsider. That is, until you realize that French employers pay a whopping 45 percent social security tax, reducing their employees’ salaries accordingly (compared, for example, with a rate of less than 8 percent in the U.S. and Canada). And that’s before employees pay another 23 percent in social security tax on their own income.
With so much of their work being taxed under the guise of being able to recoup that money in retirement, it’s not hard to understand why the French working class objects to Macron clawing back these benefits as much as he can to compensate for government mismanagement.
Macron’s recent shift in posture on the conflict in Ukraine from belligerence in chorus with other Western leaders, to his latest refrain of calling for negotiations and concessions on the part of Ukraine with a view to wrapping things up, also makes sense in light of the fact that the French electorate doesn’t rank Ukraine very highly as a priority.
Nor do French voters give much of a toss about Europe and its related issues, with national matters taking overwhelming precedence. In other words, voters want their elected officials to focus on French problems and to fix France first and foremost. Populist parties on both the right and left have that vow in common, and repeatedly denounce supranational and global governance.
In this newly elected French parliament, populists have an opportunity to showcase their priorities and contrast them with the establishment’s on the largest national stage. If they seize the opportunity to do so, the normalization of populism in the eyes of the voting public, and its continued democratic rise to power as a viable alternative to the globalist status quo, will be the result.
COPYRIGHT 2022 RACHEL MARSDEN