The second round of the presidential primary organized by the right wing and center parties in France, elected François Fillon as their 2017 Presidential candidate with a whopping majority: 65.5% against Alain Juppé’s 32.5%. The vote result, however, represents 4 million votes, a small sample of the French political spectrum, composed essentially of wealthy and elderly voters. If Fillon wants to win in the general election, he will have to expand his voter base, something difficult to do with the program he is defending.
As a leading member of Les Républicains and former Prime Minister of Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-12), he faces a very complicated task, because he wants to incarnate both Gaullist and Thatcherite policies.
On foreign policy he wants to re-establish a certain independence of France. He considers the U.S. France’s main ally, but he wants to free France from “the too strong dependency on the United States” and thought Sarkozy’s decision to bring France back into NATO was “stupidity.” He is open to collaborating with Russia to resolve the Southwest Asia wars and wants to lift the sanctions. He developed a close contact to Putin when they were both Prime Ministers, and since then he has attended the Valdai Discussion Club meetings. There is a, however, dose of “realism” in his thinking, towards Russia but also China. As he stated, “Russia is a dangerous country, full of nuclear weapons; it must not be pushed to make diplomatic mistakes, to harden up, to isolate itself, and to turn towards China.”
While this change is a relief for all those who feared that Hollande’s submission to the Anglo-American elites was leading France straight into a new world war, Fillon’s economic “shock therapy,” explicitly modeled on Thatcher’s policies, is no solution to the existential crisis in the trans-Atlantic zone and can only create conflict with a majority of the French population. Fillon has not once addressed the issue of a needed financial reform, not a word about Glass-Steagall, nor of a Roosevelt-modeled reconstruction. He is proposing the elimination of 500,000 public employee jobs (10% of the public workforce), replacing the 35-hour workweek with 39 hours, at lower pay; extending retirement age from 62 currently to 65 years. He thinks his ” fiscal shock” will restart the economy: EU40 billion in “social costs” paid by employers (social security and other social contributions); EU10 billion in tax cuts; elimination of the tax on fortunes (ISF), the 75% tax on fortunes of more than EU1 million per year; a reduction of taxes on companies from 35% currently to 25%.
On European questions, he is not for a full reform. Fillon calls for creating a Eurozone government, which however would not be run by the EU Commission, but by a secretariat made of member states. He will maintain the Maastricht criteria — 3% ceiling on national deficit to adopt the euro currency — but calls for the ECB mission to be enlarged from mere defense of the currency to promoting economic development. Fillion also calls for the construction of a European defense for necessary cost sharing, and concerning the problem of mass immigration, he calls on Europe to set up guards at its borders, to stop migrants from coming in.
Running Sans Perspective
His Thatcherite conversion occurred in London in 2014. At that time he complained to the Daily Telegraph that “since the end of Second World War, France has never had its Thatcherian revolution.” A former minister of Les Républicains who views himself as a Gaullist, Henri Guaino, commented that Fillon’s statement that “de Gaulle was a liberal on economics,” had a “hallucinated version of history” and called his policies “a program of devastation of national solidarity which will create great difficulties, if applied, to all those who want to rebuild the nation, reinforce social cohesion and restart the economy.”
Fillon’s primary win, while a big surprise for the media and polls, cannot be really seen as part of the ongoing wave of international change that started since Brexit, the Trump election, in that, the people voting for him are not the middle classes or working poor who are questioning the paradigm of globalization and want to go for industrial and infrastructure reconstruction of their countries. Fillon’s electorate is essentially wealthy and retired people, of conservative religious values. In fact, Fillon got a large part of the vote of “Sens Commun,” the Catholic traditionalist organization which opposed Hollande’s gay marriage law.
Because of its nature, Fillon’s candidacy could reshuffle all the cards of the presidential campaign. Until now, the polls were predicting a first round of the Presidential vote as being between Sarkozy or Hollande, and Marine Le Pen, and a second round being won by Sarkozy or Hollande, against Marine Le Pen, benefitting from a national mobilization to stop Le Pen.
Fillon’s rabid “shock therapy” policies will have the opposite effect, of strengthening the Socialist Party, which is today almost dead. That is already happening. Following Fillon’s victory, Hollande’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, more popular than Hollande, told the media that he would be willing to participate in the left-wing presidential primary, even if Hollande decides to run.
The Front National (FN) will also be affected in its drive for power. Fillon’s call for greater independence, his alliance with the conservative traditionalist right, and his pro-Putin stance, will drain a fair part of support that had contributed to FN’s recent rise. Marine Le Pen is left with no other choice than to go for the vote of the forgotten men and women of France. Last night she denounced “the social destruction” that that policy would create. But in that task, the Front National will have to confront France’s equivalent of Die Linke, the Communists led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
The flight forward of all these actors into the extremes, none of whom has any perspective, for the future will lead to chaos in France. In this context, Cheminade’s own candidacy defending a strong Glass-Steagall Act reform, and policies of peace through mutual development with Russia and China’s New Silk Road, are crucial for the future of France.