The French ‘patronat’, the business lobby group aka Medef, had for a long time the reputation of being the most stupid in the world. Today, the French political right is on the way to taking its place.
Even a superficial analysis of the Brexit referendum and the US elections shows that the losers of unfettered globalisation and unregulated digitisation are hitting back. The pendulum swinging towards neoliberalism in recent decades is now moving in the opposite direction. Trump’s phrase ‘the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer’ pays homage to the populace in the US that feels threatened by globalisation and digitalisation without any form of compensation. It addresses the ‘rust belt’, the 3.5 million lorry drivers who are scared by forecasts of ongoing automatisation, robotisation and driverless cabs, and those left behind in regions on the way to complete de-industrialisation. Trump’s badly designed Keynesian stimulus package will help to create jobs and so bring comfort to some of the people who have been left behind – as Stiglitz put it here.
If you want to fight the increase of the Far Right, solve the problems – of an out-of-control financial sector, mass-unemployment, unequal income and wealth distribution instead of muddling through the crisis and prolonging collateral damage by following stupid rules of overzealous budget consolidation.
The programme of the French right-wing candidate Francois Fillon is the exact opposite: anti-Keynesian and openly anti-job creation, propagating severe cuts in public budgets and downsizing by half a million the number of employees in public services. What more is needed to frighten ‘Billancourt’, the industrial remainder of France? In a context of shrinking job perspectives, the game is becoming ever easier for the Far Right.
As in the 1920s and ‘30s, it will need to do little more than simply copy/paste from trade union programmes and incorporate a strong social dimension into its populist approach. That is what the Front National leader Le Pen did immediately after Fillon’s coronation.
The French trade unions are in a ‘double bind’: they have no choice but to sharply criticise both Fillon and Le Pen. The voters understand and know that their implicit message is to support the left candidate. However, the strategy seems condemned to fail. Many voters have had enough of the current left-wing government and wish to vote for a change. The right wing offers no real perspective of change, but a programme which could have been cooked up in the kitchen of the European Commission’s DG ECFIN, where many hardliners who have completely missed the new trends survive (and thrive).
From the Far Right perspective, which is in any case against all forms of European integration, it will be easy to kill two birds with one stone – be against Europe and against Fillon. Who will be able to stop the momentum towards the election of a Far Right president followed by a referendum on Europe, ending with #Frexit, the next exit after Brexit?
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Looking into the near future: just as a French referendum on Europe might get under way it would be too late to react effectively – it will be about damage control. But the result might be even clearer than in the UK, as parts of the Far Left are anti-European as well. And the tragedy will repeat itself as farce. Just as during the Brexit campaign, the united pro-European French establishment supported by the pro-European establishment in Brussels and other Member States will not be able to find good arguments for staying inside Europe, simply because the right-wing candidate uses Europe to defend a neoliberal agenda.
What might the content of the pro-European campaign of the French right be? To defend ultra-liberalism at a time when the Commission is cautiously turning away from it and towards a Keynesian investment plan? Under these conditions a referendum on the question of leaving or staying in Europe would be lost in advance. Since the French referendum on the constitutional treaty in 2005, the pro-Europeans are losing one election (or referendum) after another. The other European Member States need a plan B now. How to design European integration without France…
Sleepwalking towards the end of the European Union as we know it has begun. Is there still anybody, anywhere around to stop it?