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Réactions à chaud – The results of the first round are in

Réactions à chaud – The results of the first round are inPrior to the May elections, the Economist and other major media had François Hollande wining the presidency. One of the latest articles in the Economist argued that voting for Hollande was only a no-Sarkozy vote rather than a belief in Hollande’s abilities, skills, and programs. François Hollande has never held a post in any government. His highest political job was secretary of the Socialist party. Nevertheless, he is arisen as the leader of the first round of the French elections with a little more than 28%.

Although some surprise was expected, the top two anticipated candidates nevertheless made it to the second round, Hollande and Sarkozy. However, the real concern is the third place of Ms. Marine Le Pen, of the extreme right, who received 20% of the votes. As per Eva Joly, the Front National “is a stain on the values of the Republic.” The nationalism of Ms. Le Pen is a considerable threat to the French Republic. Following the results, Marine Le Pen declared that “the first round is not a end in itself but a vast reunion … of the lovers of the French exceptionalism. The battle of France has only begun.” Her speech was a frightening moment, comparable to those of Hitler and Mussolini. Put simply, do French citizens want a fascist regime governing a country that advertises itself on the international stage as the guardian of human rights and democracy? Ms. Le Pen is nothing less than a threat to democracy and the Republic. The threat of Le Pen is not only a national, but also a European one. A wave a racist-nationalist movements has taken over Europe since the late 1990s. Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Czech Republic, Hungary, Belgium and of course France have experienced the rise of these movements, which will need to finally be tackled at the domestic and European level.

What to take from the results of the first round?

First, the French want to be heard. It appears that a little over 80% of citizens took the time to make their voices heard and voted. This high mobilization is a fantastic sign of a democratic vitality. This has not been the case in previous elections, especially in 2002 which was around 50% and when Mr. Le Pen made it to the second round. It only took a virulent crisis to make French citizens realize that voting does matter.

Réactions à chaud – The results of the first round are in

Second, according the estimations (at 9pm CET), François Hollande received 28.4%, Nicolas Sarkozy with 25.5%, Marine Le Pen 20%, Jean-Luc Mélenchon 11.7%. Thus, first, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s attractiveness was only a bubble created by the media without a large popular base. Second, François Hollande surfed on the wave of anti-Sarkozism. Now it would be interesting to see how Mr. Hollande adjusts his strategy before the second round. Third, Nicolas Sarkozy lost 6 points compare to 2007. Even though he is second, he remains a considerable threat to Hollande and could very much be reelected.  Sarkozy’s campaign is quite a powerful and efficient machine. He will probably be seeking the voters of the Front National. Last, the centrist candidate, François Bayrou, ranked fifth, which is a considerable failure considering that he was the third man in 2007.

The third outcome of these elections is that now the presidential race can begin. The first round is just vast mess of debates of ideas, programs, and candidates. The first round is a very messy stage open to almost anyone with the financial capability to run. The second round is what matters; in sport terms, it is the final four of basketball, or the baseball playoffs. The competition can begin with televised debates between the two candidates. The next two weeks will be crucial on several aspects: first, each candidate will have to reach out to other candidates in order to bring their votes and support to the party. Second, each candidate will have to appeal to the centrist and extremist voters. Third, propositions and pledges made at this point of the race will be held against the winner if not implemented during the next five years. Last but not least, the parliamentary elections are taking place in June. Each candidate wants to make sure to appeal as much as possible to the electors in order to increase their chances for winning the parliamentary majority. Without a clear majority, governing will be quite a nightmare for the elected candidate.

Fourth, the 20% of the Front National is a disaster.  The Front National is not a “protest vote,” as claimed by the Socialist party. This is a clear misunderstanding and misreading of the citizens. How can one consider 20% of the French voters as simply protestors? It is evidence that a large segment of French society, which is now composed of many young citizens, feels more comfortable with a racist-nationalist party than a more centrist one. Either winner – Sarkozy or Hollande – will have to actually implement new policies in order to educate these voters. It is not through more violence and repressive measures that they can win over these voters.

Fifth observation, it appears that the US does not care. In streaming through news channels from CNN, to Fox News, to MSNBC, and so on, there was nothing in US news regarding the French elections. It was quite surprising to see America not caring about this election especially in this climax of the Euro and financial crisis. Has America finally turned the page on Europe?

From now until May 5th, the real political debate is going to take place. I will make sure to offer insights and analyses throughout the process.







Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.