|Written by LEAP – EUROPE 2020|
|Tuesday, 05 April 2011|
MAP2-Winter2011 – According to LEAP/E2020, the French elections in 2012 (presidential election followed by the legislative elections) and the German federal elections planned for 20131 will set the scene for two major shocks destined to disrupt the balances of political power in these two pillars of Euroland and the European Union. Their simultaneous timing and – despite reverse agendas – their similar effects, will provide further evidence of the brutal changes to the national political and social fabric as a result of the global systemic crisis. This double shock will also define the fundamental nature of Europe’s political leadership, when a new generation of world leaders is faced, as a group, with a last chance to prevent the global geopolitical dislocation from morphing into widespread confrontation2.
The double shock could take the form of two cataclysmic announcements on the night of the French presidential and German legislative elections: namely, that France’s Front National3 (National Front) is ahead of the UMP4 and that Germany’s Die Grünen5 (the Greens) are set to beat the SPD6. They will send seismic tremors through the political landscapes of their respective countries.
Accordingly, in France, the party led by the current president, sole master of the country’s political destiny since 2007, with absolute control of all its institutions, will find itself lagging behind a party viewed as extremist and ultra-populist; a party that President Sarkozy prided himself on having almost, if not entirely, crushed when he came to power in 2007.
Whereas in Germany, the socialists, the junior partner for over twenty years (in both the federal coalitions and at the Länder, or regional, level) will take over as kingmaker and decider of political fortunes, or rather of future government coalitions. For the first time, a “green” party, with its roots in the baby-boomer movements of the 1970s, will be able to make its mark on the government of a major country.
Clearly, there are specific national forces at work in each of the two countries, but the events that we anticipate also reflect a number of broader trends affecting Europe as a whole.
the National Front overtakes the UMP
In the case of France, 2010 brought increasing public awareness of a triple failure in both the UMP’s strategy and its leader, Nicolas Sarkozy, resulting in the lowest approval ratings for a president since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 19587. These ratings herald the electoral shock in 2012 :
• failure to keep the main electoral promises regarding growth, employment and wages (summed up in the famous election slogan: “Work more to earn more”). In fact, the global crisis dashed any hopes of reducing unemployment (which rose instead), and the austerity measures are weighing heavily on the middle and underprivileged classes.
– On foreign policy: France’s return to NATO, its increasing military engagement in Afghanistan, and, on the diplomatic front, its almost total alignment with Washington. Those decisions were taken without ever having been mentioned in the election campaign (regarding Afghanistan Mr Sarkozy had announced quite the opposite) and without being put to the vote afterwards. Consequently, they shocked the public, particularly a large portion of the traditional UMP electorate with its Gaullist attachment to national independence. Indeed, that same electorate is enabling the candidature of dissident Gaullist Dominique de Villepin8, prime minister under President Jacques Chirac and defender of France’s refusal to support the American-British invasion of Iraq. In a recent poll of conservative voters he equalled the president’s score of 15% as their preferred candidate in the 2012 elections9.
– On political, fiscal and social policy: the handling of the pension reform, with no real negotiation, and of the “tax shield” 10 (both of which are opposed by large majorities of all groups, including the right wing)11 added to the general impression of failure to deliver on socio-economic problems, resistance to any form of dialogue, and systematic favouring of the rich. The Bettencourt affair (concerning the heir to the L’Oréal empire, the richest person in France), whose disclosures raised questions about the country’s leaders and created legal chaos, had a strong impact on public opinion, particularly amongst the many blue-collar workers who had transferred their allegiance from the National Front to the UMP at the 2007 elections. The split between “them and us”, with the “rich and powerful” on one side and “the people” on the other, is now working against the UMP, whereas it had been the undoing of the Socialist Party in 2007 (the term “gauche caviar” was coined for Parisian socialists who had broken their ties with “the people”).
– On the great republican principles: the government’s policies on education and treatment of minorities and immigrants are fostering an increasing sense of exclusion. While different groups react to different policies, two trends emerge systematically: a feeling that the government has betrayed many of the Republic’s core values12, that solid base of shared values underpinning modern France for almost two centuries, a legacy not only of the Enlightenment but also of the Christian tradition. This last point was demonstrated by the Catholic community’s vociferous protests against the treatment of the Roms. In short, on this question of principle, the UMP increasingly resembles – including in the eyes of a traditional, more centrist portion of its electorate – a political movement that has abandoned the country’s values. Indeed, the Nouveau Centre13 (New Centre), an offshoot of the UMP, intends to present its own candidate, Hervé Morin, the current defence minister, at the first round of the 2012 presidential elections. That should knock a few more percentage points off the UMP’s share of the vote in the first round.
• a presidential style destined not to survive the crisis: the 2012 elections will see the UMP paying the price of the “beautiful people” image that Mr Sarkozy has tried to project in office. We shall never know whether, in a crisis-free world, that bling-bling style, a mixture of modern glitter and time-honoured splendour, might have managed to seduce the French. But the global meltdown and the ensuing economic and social strife put paid to any such attempts. Furthermore, the problem dogging the UMP is that the French president seems unable to rid himself off that image in the public’s mind. And with the socio-economic crisis set to worsen in the run-up to 2012, that image is totally counter-productive as a political message.
In summary, our team notes that if, as seems highly probable, Nicolás Sarkozy14 runs for a second presidential term in 2012, there is every likelihood that the UMP will suffer a record defeat in the first round – abandoned by the centre-right15 and the Gaullists and also by the workingclass voters garnered from the National Front in 2007. And according to LEAP/E2020 the National Front16 will be the chief beneficiary of that collapse for three main reasons :
– most of the working-class voters who put Mr Sarkozy in power had come from the National Front, which had scored badly as a result. But disappointment with the Sarkozy regime has driven those voters back to the NF, which performed very well at the latest regional elections. This reversal explains the French government’s increasingly radical stand on security and immigration, in a vain bid to win back those supporters. Indeed, UMP delegates are now preaching the virtues of an alliance with the National Front at the legislative elections in 201217. The risk of a legislative rout, preceded by the loss of the presidency just weeks before, is clearly preoccupying a growing number of the ruling party’s members; hence the interest in similar alliances in the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Austria.
– the spread of these European alliances between the socalled “traditional” right and the far right reflects a fundamental trend18 that the crisis has served to accelerate. Socioeconomic angst adds to the impact of simplistic political rhetoric with its fondness for scapegoats (e.g. minorities and immigrants), whereas the democratic credibility of the traditional right-wing parties has been severely undermined by their collusion with the powerful bankers at the root of the crisis and by their management of unpopular measures. Sadly, in the political arena, some things never change. And that will be all too clear in France in 2012.
– the emergence of a new generation of National Front leaders or “Frontists”, embodied by “the boss’s daughter”, Marine Le Pen. The promotion of a young woman increases this structure’s appeal to voters by softening and modernising its image and distancing it from its founder’s inflammatory past. Marine Le Pen is typical of a rising political generation in Europe, peopled by the grandsons of families with names like Wilder (Netherlands), Fini (Italy), De Wever (Belgium), Strache (Austria), Vona (Hungary), Tudor (Romania), Kjaersgaard (Denmark), not to mention the granddaughters of Pétain, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, and others19.
1. But they could take place earlier, since German political tradition gives the federal chancellor some flexibility in setting the date of the legislative elections. As a result, many legislatures have lasted only three years instead of the four years prescribed by the Grundgesetz (Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany). Source : Wikipedia.
2. On this point, see how Franck Biancheri anticipates the outcome (along with two alternative scenarios) in his latest work, “Global Crisis: the Path to the World After”. Source: Ed. Anticipolis.
3. The Front National is the party of the far right and was formed by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is now handing over the leadership to his daughter Marine Le Pen.
4. The UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) is France’s ruling conservative party. Its leader is President Nicolas Sarkozy, who controls both legislative bodies (National Assembly and Senate) and therefore the French government.
5. Die Grüne (the Greens) are the ecologists, who were the minority party in the coalition with the SPD when Gerhard Schröder was chancellor.
6. Le SPD is the socialist party and traditionally one of the two major government parties, the other being its opponent, the CDU.
7. Source : Le Figaro, 08/11/2010
8. The feud between Dominique de Villepin and Nicolas Sarkozy, stoked by the obscure «Clearstream Affair», is so vicious that the former is now clearly bent on preventing the latter from being re-elected in 2012, whatever the cost. He even declared recently “Nicolas Sarkozy is one of France’s problems”. Source :Le Monde, 07/11/2010
9. Source : L’Express, 14/09/2010
10. This grand gesture symbolised the beginning of a five-year term, but the government is now obliged to consider abolishing it.
11. Sources : Le Figaro, 15/10/2010 ; Le Point, 08/10/2010 ; France 2, 20/09/2010
12. Note the failed attempt to appoint the president’s son as head of the organisation running a key business district, La Defense; a move that deeply shocked many conservative voters, who believe that such honours must be earned. See Wikinews.
13. Which is striking an increasingly discordant note on those very values (pensions, the Roms, etc.).
14. Of course, the UMP could present another official candidate, but that would signal the implosion of the party itself, which was conceived as the electoral machine of the French president, and a fierce internal power struggle. If Prime Minister François Fillon were presented, his candidature would continue to be penalised by two of the three failures outlined above (only the “presidential style” would no longer be a handicap). But this is unlikely to prevent the party from producing a number of rival candidates, since François Fillon does not possess the electoral clout to assert his superiority.
15. Members of the centre-left, who had deserted their candidate Ségolène Royal are already cured of any illusions about the current French president, as evidenced by the failure of the “opening to the left”. This enterprise is now consigned to oblivion, as the coming cabinet reshuffle will prove.
16. Don’t forget that in 2002, the National Front astonished the world at large by qualifying for the second round of France’s presidential elections, displacing the Socialist Party.
17. Source : Le Figaro, 20/10/2012
18. On this point, it is worth re-reading the anticipation published by Franck Biancheri in November 1998, entitled «Europe in 2009 could end up in the hands of the post modern great grand sons of Hitler, Franco, Mussolini and Petain». Several of the trends shaping the world today and fuelling the electoral shocks were already apparent twelve years ago.
19. For a complete picture of this generation of the European far right, see the excellent map published in L’Express on 11/10/2010.