Macron just laid the ultimate far-right trap

Macron just laid the ultimate far-right trap

Wednesday | June 12, 2024

Much of France was stunned. President Ronald Reagan was horrified and promptly sent his vice president, George H.W. Bush, racing to Paris to make sure the new leader of America’s NATO ally hadn’t lost his mind.

After lunch, which lasted two hours, Bush came out into the courtyard where I was with a group of reporters to give his assurance. He said that the talks were “warm and friendly” and that he had complete faith in Mitterrand’s ambitions for his country.

The communist ministers, who had never served in office but were skilled at sniping from the sidelines, created a template that the Mitterrand government followed in the following months as it nationalized a number of important banks and enterprises.

During my tour of his bank, Baron Guy de Rothschild—who did not often interact with the press—showed me the chairs in his board room, where his forebears used to sit and shouted that “communists will be sitting in these chairs.”

These programs, which were essential to the communist strategy, eventually failed. Initially, the program’s expenses skyrocketed after the Constitutional Court declared that the prices paid for the nationalized enterprises were excessively low. The rate of inflation shot beyond 8%. The huge middle class faced skyrocketing taxes.

Two of the four communist ministers had left the administration by 1983. After a year, everyone had left. The nationalizations were eventually reversed in 1986.

After serving as president for the longest period of time in French republican history—14 years—Mitterrand had minimal opposition from the extreme left during his tenure.

“Hold your friends close and your enemies closer,” Mitterrand had urged Bush that day in 1981. Years later, he confided in me. In summary, if you give them enough leash, they will eventually hang themselves.

This is now, and that was then. The far right, especially Marine Le Pen’s party, the heir to her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s political empire, has been a thorn in Emmanuel Macron’s side since the beginning of his first presidential campaign.

That thorn was too much to overlook on Sunday. In this year’s European Parliamentary elections, the right made a comeback in many EU member states. Even while they were unable to take total control of the European Parliament, the right made significant progress, particularly in France and Germany, and now has a much stronger voice for the next five years.

Following it, Macron announced an unexpected early election when Le Pen’s National Rally won 33% of the vote. If there was any doubt as to why the world should be concerned about this astounding choice, these results and everything they indicate about voter sentiment will undoubtedly hang over this week’s G-7 summit in Italy, where President Joe Biden will be making his second trip to Europe after the D-Day observances in Normandy.

The Olympics follow, with opening ceremonies scheduled for fewer than three weeks following the French elections. And with it, the chance that voters would elect the right to power, endangering the jobs of all the Macron cabinet members responsible for organizing the celebrations.

So why would Macron decide to take this chance? Few members of the French extreme right have ever held political power, at least not at the national level, save from a small number of seats in the National Assembly. Instead, they have a plethora of schemes that Macron believes are nothing more than illusions that run the risk of bankrupting the country and its economy.

Macron is probably relying on the complex math of French politics, which has twice prevented Le Pen from becoming president and five times prevented her father from doing so.

The top two must advance to a second round if no candidate receives 50% of the vote in the first round, which is expected to have twelve or more candidates. (This also applies to all legislative seats; there will be two rounds of voting this time, with the first on June 30 and the second on July 7.)

No Le Pen candidate was able to secure more than a third of the vote in the first round of voting. Then, with just two contenders in the second round, Marine Le Pen only just managed to defeat Macron by 40% in the 2022 election.

Naturally, Macron won’t be running this time. He will serve until 2027. Even so, it will be an opportunity to highlight the extreme right’s complete shortcomings even if the right manages to seize control of Parliament next month and Le Pen’s amanuensis, 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, becomes prime minister. Le Pen is reserving herself for one (last) run at the presidency in 2027.

Their platform is astounding: they want to reduce immigration, outlaw Islamic head coverings in public, reduce investment in renewable energy, rebate the VAT tax to consumers, remove foreign workers who have been unemployed for more than a year, reinstate the age of 60 for retirement, launch a national health plan worth 20 billion euros, lower the energy VAT from 20% to 5%, construct six new nuclear generators, and increase funding for security and justice by 1.5 billion euros annually.

All of this without much idea of how to finance it. I see. And there would be no more limitations on hunting, which Le Pen described as “one of France’s most ancestral traditions.”

Macron has always had strong political judgment. But will he be able to effectively destroy the far right as a viable force before France gets to the next presidential election?

It’ll be a rocky road getting there.

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