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Opinion: 'Electing Macron last week could result in Le Pen winning the next election in 2022'

Macron’s approach, is the failed strategy of austerity or neoliberalism, writes Julien Mercille.

Julien Mercille Associate professor, UCD

ARE YOU GOOD at mathematics?

If so, you can understand the French election and what to expect under the new president, Emmanuel Macron. Macron is a former banker and he beat the Front National’s Marine Le Pen a few days ago. Many people cheered, but many others warned that the result was not as good as it appeared.

Indeed, there is a simple mathematical equation that summarises what’s now at stake: Macron 2017 = Le Pen 2022.

It means that electing Macron last week could result in Le Pen winning the next election in 2022. This would be a catastrophe for France, Europe and the world, given Le Pen and her Front National party’s neofascist tendencies.

Why is that? 

Macron is the darling of the French and European establishment. The media were fully behind him during the campaign. He likes the European Union, the Euro, business, markets and employers. You could describe him as a “left neoliberal”, because he likes markets (he is a former Rothschild banker, after all), but he’s not as extreme as, say, Theresa May in Britain.

The media present him as youthful, energetic, charismatic. He reminds us of Obama, while the Wall Street Journal called him the French Tony Blair.

Macron must deal with France’s big problem: high unemployment and a stagnating economy. Just look at the numbers: the unemployment rate has averaged 9.1% over the last decade, increasing from 7.1% in 2008 to 10.4% in 2015 (it is now at 9.9%). GDP per capita today is virtually the same as 10 years ago, implying that France has had a “lost decade” in economic growth.

The question is, how to revive the economy?

Having lived through the economic crisis in Europe for the last few years, we are familiar with the two competing solutions.

One, which is Macron’s approach, is the failed strategy of austerity or neoliberalism: cut government spending, make it easier to fire workers, cut taxes on businesses, deregulate finance etc. In other words, give more power to the corporate sector and less power to ordinary people.

But that doesn’t work, in fact, it makes things worse. Anyone who doesn’t understand that needs to compare Europe’s very bad performance in the wake of the recession (because of austerity) to the United States’ better performance in getting back on its feet (because the US applied much less austerity than Europe).

The second and better alternative, which is left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s approach, is about stimulating the economy and redistribute income downwards. The government should invest in key industries, use taxes on corporations and the better off to give more spending power to the majority of people and fund better public services that make life cheaper for everybody.

More of Macron will lead to more popular resentment

The key issue is that the popular discontent that has given rise to monsters like Le Pen in France, UKIP in the UK and Trump in the US is a result of austerity policies that have held people down and given more power to elites.

That’s why more of Macron will lead to more popular resentment. Le Pen can only feed on that and perhaps even win the next election. Hence Macron 2017 = Le Pen 2022.

Indeed, Macron has already a record. He was Finance Minister two years ago and implemented the “Loi Macron” (Macron’s Law) that made it easier to fire workers. It’s a typical neoliberal law and created a lot of opposition in France.

Now he proposes to go further and cut taxes on corporate profits and lower employers’ contributions to France’s social welfare system, make it easier to dismiss workers, cut 120,000 jobs in the public service, weaken unions, and cut government spending by €60 billion over the next five years.

So it’s no surprise that Medef, France’s employers association that supports him, said that during his campaign, Macron “acted like a businessman”.

Progressives must go onto the streets

Therefore, whether the mathematical equation fulfills itself will depend a lot on the youth, unions, and ordinary people. If they can’t organise and spend their time bickering, Macron will do what he likes. If they organise and support Mélenchon’s movement or something similar, there is hope.

As a French friend of mine told me last week, “we must go vote Macron to keep Le Pen out, but then go back to the streets immediately to oppose Macron’s reforms”.

In other words, the ball is in your camp, progressives.

Julien Mercille is an associate professor at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille.

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About the author:

Julien Mercille  / Associate professor, UCD

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