The Malta Independent 23 April 2018, Monday

Macron, Le Pen and ‘Political Fantasy’

Simon Mercieca Monday, 19 March 2018, 09:06 Last update: about 2 months ago

 There was the General Congress of the Front National held in Lille during which Marine Le Pen once again became party leader. She immediately declared her intention to revamp the party by starting with the change of its name. From Front National, she wants it to be called Rassemblement National. In her words, it has to serve as "... a rallying cry, a cry to those who have France and the French at their heart to join us." Thus, she is moving her party away from its far right position towards the centre-right. In so doing, Le Pen will be expanding her electoral base.

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Such a strategy has worked successfully in Malta, and will definitely help the Front National to make it to government. It will help the party to appeal to the French conservative voters who hold the largest electoral base. This can be easily deduced from the French elections. In the first round, candidates of the parties on the right of the political spectrum get the highest number of votes. It is during the second round, that the situation changes, as happened both in 2012 and 2017. In the 2012, the Socialist Holland was elected, while in 2017, Macron made it to power.

Many centre-right voters are taking the message and there is now even an open discussion, whether or not, the parties on the centre-right should form a coalition with Marine Le Pen's party. Twenty years ago, such an idea was unthinkable let alone even pronounced.

Next is the confusing news related to the Britain's decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats and also about the possibility of severing its diplomatic relations with Russia. Russia is being held responsible for the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Russia, in retaliation has dismissed an equal number of English diplomats and also closed down the British Council. Many in the UK are now interpreting Britain's diplomatic actions as wanting to start a new cold war with Russia.

Murdoch's newspaper, The Times, reported and I quote: "France crushes Theresa May's hope of a united front against Russia and accuses her of "fantasy politics" over spy poisoning." This piece of news came as a surprise. It is clear that at first Macron had no intention of supporting May and made his opinion public though his official spokesman, who accused May of engaging in 'fantasy politics'. What he had exactly said is that "We don't do fantasy politics". Had such a statement been made by Le Pen, it would have been interpreted as being anti-European and pro-Russian and therefore anti-democratic. This time round, this political talk came from Macron who, until recently, was considered the champion of European ideals.

For the France of Macron, Theresa May is 'punishing Russia prematurely' and this is definitely the case. But May's diplomatic move may have ulterior motives. At least, in France this is being read as a covert attempt to undermine France's efforts to consolidate her relationship with Russia. France is afraid that Russia's retaliation could have far more serious consequences than just affecting Britain.

All this does not come as a surprise. When studying at the Sorbonne-Paris IV, back in the 1990s, I still remember discussions by academics at this university, who were insisting that the future of France rested in getting closer to Russia. These discussions were taking place in the light of the antiSerbian position that was being adopted by Nato. Bill Clinton forced an international alliance against the Serbia of Milosevic. But many interpreted this action as one intended to humiliate and weaken Russia, which was exiting its Soviet politics and rediscovering its Orthodox legacy.

These anti-Serbian positions were not considered to be in France's interest. Back then, it was just an academic discussion. Some of these academics had clout with the centre-right parties. Today many of these academics are either dead or enjoying their pensions. But France did not have the stamina to say no at the time. It seems that these French academics have been vindicated. They had rightly perceived that France's future rested in an alliance with Russia, as had been the case during World War I. For sure, judging according to history, they did not consider Clinton's action to be in France's best interest.

This time round, this political argument was resuscitated by a politician, who does not belong to the right. Macron is normally considered to be to the left of the French political spectrum. When this statement was issued, France was seriously considering that this form of international bickering is not in her interest. Like Britain, France too is seeking what is best for her. The truth is that there is a covert cold war in Europe which goes beyond Russia.

This is about the Brexit agreement. One suspects that May's political decision was taken to weaken France's efforts in her dealings with Russia. But judging from what is being said in French newspapers, France seems to have learned her lesson from the 1990s debacle. Supporting the attack on Serbia had lost France the opportunity to re-establish her historical links with her past allies. More importantly, it precluded France from establishing good relations with Russia. In the end, France was the major economic loser in this international imbroglio that Clinton and his international friends brought to Europe.

Definitely, Britain's current behaviour pushed the centreleft in France to take an antiBritish position. But then the unexpected happened. France changed her international position within hours and from being against Britain, started to support Britain. France joined Germany, US and UK in issuing a joint statement blaming Russia for the Salisbury attack.

The irony is that all this is only going to play into the hands of Marine Le Pen. It will continue to help rehabilitate her party on the French political scene. Le Pen shares quite a number of ideals with some of the British Conservatives regarding the European Union. Like some of the British Conservatives and the UKIP, Le Pen wants her country to leave the EU and return to its former currency, the Franc.

What is interesting is Le Pen's position towards Russia. This is still not clear, but I doubt she will take an antiRussian stand. She supported Trump's election.

On the other hand, the Trump administration is sending mixed messages regarding Russia. At one point, Trump dismissed his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for his comments on Russia. The next day, the same Trump administration issued a strong worded support statement in favour of Theresa May. It is now also clear that America put pressure on France to participate in this joint statement condemning Russia.

As things stand now, what was inconceivable up to 10 or 20 years ago in France, has become a reality. Marine Le Pen and her new party can easily join forces with parties of the centre- right. Until the last election, many traditional voters of the centre-right preferred Macron to Le Pen. The situation is slowly changing and social unrest is becoming, once again, rife in France. Macron is turning out to be an immature politician. His visit to Sandhurst in January was a diplomatic disaster for he failed to express the French stateliness and allowed his diplomats to be bullied by the British. This time round, he had to make a political retreat.

So far, his presidency has not had the courage nor the willpower to stand up on its own feet and decide what is best for France. This could be an indication of the direction this country is heading. The Trump administration got caught between two stools. Trump has not hidden his admiration for Putin - cyber hacking aside. At the same time, he cannot let his only sure ally in Western Europe, May, face this international crisis alone. In the process, instead of being wise and gain from this international situation, Macron is expressing insecurity: the France of Macron is turning out to be the principal loser.


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