With the almost certain victory next Sunday of the Emmanuel Macron candidates to fill more than two thirds of the French National Assembly, France is undergoing a political transformation.
This smiling confident young man, the centrist candidate, won international praise when he acceded to the French presidency by defeating both the traditional candidates and the extremist groups that had ridden the wave of populist xenophobia: the National Right party of Marine Le Pen and the ultra-leftist party of Jean Luc Melanchon.
But at the time of his election on May 7, the pundits predicted that he would have a difficult time governing because his victory over the National Front candidate left him and his party isolated from the political mainstream, the traditionally strong political parties who have been in power in one form or another since 1945.
What happened at the first round vote last Sunday to elect members of the French parliament or National Assembly was astounding.
Voters knocked out of power a significant portion of the traditional political parties who will not either be eligible for the second round or are too far behind to challenge the Macron candidates.
Some commentators are going so far as to say that France has invented a revolution from the Center, an historical achievement because radical change almost always comes from extremists. Left or Right.
France and revolution are related terms because the French Republic was born through a revolution in the 18th century, 5 years after America won its independence. The French flag and national anthem are symbols of the 1789 revolution.
The leader of the movement that has turned French politics upside down is a man who never previously held elective office, and at 39 is the youngest French chief of state since Napoleon. The political movement he established "En Marche" (with the same initials as its leader, EM) did not exist as a political party one year ago.
To conceive the extent of what is happening, since the last legislative elections in 2012, the traditional political parties have held 96 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, with 366 seats for the Socialist majority and 219 seats for the Republican minority. Yet after the first round of the current legislative elections, it can be forecast with certainty that the En Marche or March Forward party will hold more than 400 seats in the Assembly. And the almost 80 percent of the Assembly seats are to be held by Macron candidates who are often from civilian, non-political backgrounds, were virtually unknown to voters and have no electoral experience, including a former bullfighter, a mathematician, and business owners.
We are braced for the equivalent of ousting the Democrats and Republicans from Congress.
This is wonderful news to many in Europe coming at a time when democratic liberalism and European unity was threatened with Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and the increasing and invasive power of Putin’s Russia.
We can rejoice that the glass is more than half full.
But to some in the French and international political establishment, and not only those who are the losers on the Left and Right, the glass is also more than half empty.
What’s the problem??
It is gigantic!
When the man with the best intentions and the perfect profile, superbly self-confident without a touch of narcissism or megalomania, has with him a handpicked National Assembly with legislators motivated by no other political ambition than endorsing their leader’s program . . . imagine his burden.
He cannot be judged on the quality and intelligence of the means he employs. An “A” for effort doesn’t count.
He can only be judged by his results.
The one and only standard will be whether France succeeds in surmounting its terribly difficult economic and social challenges.
Politics at its best, leadership at its best, may not be able to fix what’s wrong with France. Maybe it's too late because once the horse is running fast out of the stable not even the best and brightest may be able to put it back.
14.5 million people out of the country's 28 million-strong workforce are — one way or another — making a living off taxpayers' money and industry is leaving the country. Immigrants and Muslim sons and daughters of immigrants live in ghetto like suburbs and their youth is 45 percent unemployed. And most importantly perhaps is the fact that the middle most French citizens have seen their quality of life continually on a downward slope during the last 30 years irrespective of the political party in power.
And despite the overwhelming vote in favor of the Macron candidates, an unprecedented percentage of the electorate didn’t vote.
If this one party/one man control of government does not bring real success, the sanction will most likely be, in this country with a history of violent confrontation, in the streets, and with a resurgence of political extremism.
The European Union and even the Euro itself are under attack because of Brexit and serious criticism of the Brussels bureaucracy.
France is now in a pedestal as the shining light on the hill, and the success or failure of the entirely new political framework to be in place after Sunday’s expected second round landslide legislative victory for Emanuel Macron/En Marche will be critical to the future of France and also Europe.
Mark L. Cohen has his own legal practice, and was counsel at White & Case starting in 2001, after serving as international lawyer and senior legal consultant for the French aluminum producer Pechiney. Cohen was a senior consultant at a Ford Foundation Commission, an advisor to the PBS television program "The Advocates," and Assistant Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He teaches U.S. history at the business school in Lille l’EDHEC. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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