"The popularity of populism can’t be dismissed"
Cedric R.(left) and Jordan Jeandon(right) from France as well as British Ex-Patriate Millie from Paris are worried about the Presidential Election in France

As the French Presidential election draws ever nearer, OneEurope caught up with three people to discuss what this election means for France and the European Union: Cedric R.- a French expat in the Netherlands; a Macron supporter; and one half of Europe Unleashed. Jordan Jeandon, a French citizen from Dijon, currently working in Paris. Finally, we have OneEurope’s own Paris-based Millie Kershaw.

According to Jeandon, “a large number of French citizens want to leave Europe but the reasons for doing so are different: some do not support a European system that does not respond to their concerns, others think that Europe is the veritable ruin of the French state.” Kershaw argues that the euroscepticism expressed in the first round is less an instantaneous shift, but  “more of a steadily growing opinion that has been gaining more ground year upon year,” which can be attributed to an increasing “scepticism of mainstream political parties…. and exasperation for a political system and the perceived political elite as a whole; those who many feel have proven very little when it comes to keeping promises bring about positive change to the lives of citizens.” 

While admitting the “Front National is becoming more of an established party… it is not an insult anymore,” Cedric maintains that “France is generally not a eurosceptic country.” Citing a Euractiv poll that shows the majority of French people support the European Union, he adds that “it’s not binary- you don’t have people in favour and people who want to leave. You have people in favour, people that are indifferent and people that maybe want to leave- and over this entire poll of people, you have 57% of people that are in favour of it.”

"It’s not the way it used to be fifty years ago.” 

“I also understand,” Jeandon tells us, “the reason that motivates Mélanchon to refuse a Union that authorises the use of glysophates in its insecticides and it doesn’t take a strong stance on ecological matters.” Cedric, contrarily, disputes the claim that Mélenchon and Dupont-Aignan are necessarily eurosceptic to the extent that they genuinely want to leave the European Union. “I know someone who is voting for Marine Le Pen actually, and when you ask them about European Union, what they tell you is that first she will have a referendum, and then we will never exit.” Instead he postulates that “people vote for politicians like Marine Le Pen, or Mélenchon, because they are very charismatic and because what they present is nice to hear- that the issue lies at a European level.” 

Although as he does point out, “the economical situation that we have currently in France is not the fault of Europe, it’s the fact of us not being able to make enough reform or to change our habit. The way we are working right now- the way the world is right now- it’s not the way it used to be fifty years ago.” Kershaw, however, points out that the “popularity of populism can’t be dismissed as there are concerns that need to be addressed and taken seriously when it comes to the economy and security among other issues,” and goes as far as to tie this to the fate of the European Union.

"If the majority doesn’t agree with either En Marche! or FN reforms, nothing will change." 

“You have two ‘France’. You have the one side of France that is successful in the economic environment, in Europe. People, basically, like me that are educated, that travel, that go and work in a different European country- that completely adhere to the model of the European Union as it is. And then you have the rest of the people who live in rural areas that are cut from education… that have difficulty finding a job, that have difficulties in Europe and that are very frustrated. These are the two France that are nowadays combatting against each other.”

Jeandon blames the French political system for the disengagement and disenfranchisement, particularly among the latter group, and warns that “if the majority doesn’t agree with either En Marche! or FN reforms, nothing will change. “If there is no evidence of the change that was demanded by a large proportion of the country, scepticism surround the EU will continue to build… I can’t see why the FN wouldn’t be back in the final round of voting in the next presidential election if that’s the case.” Populism, Jeandon argues, will “disappear the day when the (non-populist) governments in place regain the confidence of their citizens.”

On the other hand, Cedric does not believe merely electing Macron and reforming the system will put an end to the tide of populism either. “I think the populism will still stay high for the whole term that Emmanuel Macron will be in place. But if, at the end of the term of Emmanuel Macron as a possible president, he makes some change, make some improvement that people can really see that happening in their life, then I expect the party of Marine Le Pen to go towards what is, for me, a normal score for extreme right or extreme left which is below ten percent.” Likewise, Kershaw believes that “it’s fair to say, dependent on the success of the next five years (assuming Macron wins), lack of change and reform would propel the FN to the top spot by the next election.” Although broadly agreeing, Cedric is somewhat more precautious, suggesting that that Macron’s government “is the last stop before the extremes- because it could be Marine Le Pen, but it could be Melenchon as well."

"I do think it would be in Europe’s best interest to carry out reform of the EU" 

“It might trigger a civil war in France” Cedric postulates in reference to the potential enactment of Le Pen’s isolationist trade and foreign policies. “If tomorrow you closed to the border, you put some taxes on import, I think the situation will be pretty bad because we exchange a lot of goods with Germany and other countries.If you speak about jobs, I’m actually not sure having such a policy of being an isolationist will promote more job. In France, you know, we are very scared of what happened in May ‘68 when the country was completely blocked because of social unrest in the cities and also the countryside. This is, for me, a risk definitely and a threat even to the democracy because what happens tomorrow if she can’t control the population anymore?”

“I do think it would be in Europe’s best interest to carry out reform of the EU,” Kershaw says, “seeing as France and Germany are in such precarious positions with regards to populism and Euroscepticism and the future of the Union itself.” However, calling hopes for fully-fledged European federalism under Macron “a little bit too optimistic”, Cedric points out the disparity between the Group of Four (France, Germany, Spain and Italy) who are seeking further integration and the Visegrad Group who don’t want to go beyond a single market. “I think the idea of Emmanuel Macron is to have a consultation of people to clarify the situation because… people are in favour of Europe, but the people for which they are voting are eurosceptic- I mean, something is not normal.”