When survival is at stake, one may hear from a politician not what he believes — but what he thinks the people deciding his fate wish to hear.
By that standard, what do the people of France, in the final weeks of their presidential election, wish to hear from their candidates?
President Nicolas Sarkozy seems to believe his countrymen are in a deeply nationalistic frame of mind.
Five million Muslims live in France, but he is cracking down on Islamists. He is demanding that the Schengen Agreement, under which Europe’s nations maintain open borders, be renegotiated. If immigration from outside Europe is not restricted, says Sarkozy, he will pull out of Schengen.
He is demanding a “Buy European Act” for public contracts. He will confront Japan and China on trade. Were he running in the U.S.A., Sarkozy would be denounced as a protectionist and nativist.
His strategy? He wants to finish first in the first round of voting April 22, by siphoning support from the rightist National Front of Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen would halt immigration, crack down on crime, pull France out of the eurozone and restore the franc. She calls for an “Arab Spring” in France, a democratic revolution, yet sounds statist with her pledge to force down oil and gas prices. This lady is no libertarian.
Sarkozy is moving right to crowd her out in the first round of voting and is being assisted by a rabidly anti-Le Pen party of the extreme left led by ex-Socialist and ex-Trotskyite Jean-Luc Melenchon, who appeals to an angry and dispossessed working class.
The Left Front, made up of the Communist Party, Greens and radicals, has been gaining from the fiery speeches of Melenchon, a supporter of Hugo Chavez who endorses China’s policy in Tibet and regards the United States as the “greatest problem in the world.”
Melenchon loathes and mocks “the rich,” and has proposed a 100 percent tax on income above $450,000. No executive would be allowed to earn a salary more than 20 times higher than his average worker. France’s minimum wage would be raised 40 percent to more than $25,000 a year.
An anti-capitalist and anti-globalist who called at the Bastille for “civic insurrection,” Melenchon has gained at the expense of Socialist Francois Hollande, who yet appears the favorite for the Elysee Palace.
Defending his imperiled left flank, Hollande supports a 75 percent tax on all incomes above 1 million euros and would restore pension benefits peeled back by Sarkozy to reduce France’s deficits and halt the rise in her national debt.
In the first round of voting, Hollande and Sarkozy are expected to finish first and second, and enter the runoff May 5.
One debate is scheduled. Sarkozy wants two. Hollande is seen a a bore. However unpopular Sarkozy is, he is not.
Looking at the speeches of the leading contenders and the issues they are emphasizing, what does this tell us about France — and Europe?
First, Europe’s economic crisis has engendered a deep resentment against the rich that, if reflected in the tax policy of Hollande, could cause an exodus. France’s most productive and successful citizens would likely flee to countries where the tax rates do not confiscate the rewards of their labors.
Second, anti-immigrant sentiment is surging, especially against Muslim and Third World peoples. Yet, as no EU country has a birthrate that will enable it to replace its present population, immigration is certain to continue, as will the ethnonational recoil against it.
In the name of EU solidarity, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed to campaign for Sarkozy. He no longer seems to want her.
Third, as nationalism is on the boil in France and across Europe, globalism and transnationalism — the vision of an EU evolving into a federal union, a United States of Europe, leading to the dream of One World — no longer seem to be the future. They no longer inspire, if ever they did.
Among France’s young, it is Marine Le Pen who runs strongest at 26 percent.
Neither Le Pen nor Melenchon, who together will amass more votes than Hollande or Sarkozy, supports further surrenders of French sovereignty. To augment its power and deepen its presence on the continent, the EU will have to overcome rising popular resistance.
Economic nationalism appears a growth stock on the right and left, as it was in the United States in the NAFTA debate, when Socialist Bernie Sanders marched with Ross Perot.
Great crises often bring people together.
Our Revolutionary War was indispensable to creating America.
But as Gideon Rachman writes in the Financial Times, Europe’s crisis is “encouraging the citizens of the European Union to fall back on older, more deeply rooted national identities.”
The people of France and the peoples of Europe seem to be returning to their roots, to whom they were, and to whom they wish to be again.
Europe is coming apart — and so, it appears, are we.