France, the land of love and literature, wine and cheese, and also the birth place of modern democracy, recently held elections to elect its new President.
The concept of democracy originated in Greece, but it underwent a process of refining in France so that it could become relevant and applied to contemporary times. It was France that made democracy a global phenomenon.
The French Revolution in 1789 showed the way to the world on how to become a democracy and created a system of governance based on and guided by a constitution.
Inspired by the French Revolution, the whole of South America broke the shackles of colonialism and transitioned to democracy to become modern independent nation-states by the 19th Century. The French continue to inspire even today, and their influence on geopolitics is undeniable.
France is not a very big country geographically, but it has the second largest military in Europe. Its economy is the second biggest in the European Union and the fifth largest in the world.
It ranks first on the global soft power index. It is also the most visited country in the world. France is the only country to still have sovereign territory in five continents. It is also the only country to be the founding member of UNSC, NATO and the European Union.
Its diplomatic representation is one of the largest in the world. All this makes it very important in geopolitics, especially in the background of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. France is the de facto leader of Europe.
Hence, the President of France will play a very important role in shaping up the future of Europe.
The French Presidential election has two rounds. The French believe that you first vote with your heart and then with your head. In the first round, all candidates will be eligible for votes. The ones who get the maximum votes will go to the second round. Whoever wins the second round takes oath as President.
Any number of candidates can file their nomination provided they have 500 signatures from elected officials from 30 different government departments. A candidate can be an independent or represent a political party.
This year there were 12 candidates who filed their nomination. They all are provided with equal broadcast space in radio and television for campaigning.
This year, the current President, Emmanuel Macron, got re-elected by defeating his far-right rival Marine Le Penn convincingly. In 2017, Macron made history by becoming the youngest President of France.
He was just 39 years old. His victory was not a foregone conclusion as he faced stiff competition from far-right rival Marine Le Pen whose ratings were at par with his. But in the end, he won the election hands down garnering 53% of the popular vote.
Marine Le Pen, nicknamed Phoenix, is the leader of the National Front Party. This was her third bid for presidency after losing the race in 2012 and 2017. Around 47% of French voters voted for her. Marine Le Pen was opposed to globalization and considered it a threat to French society.
She wanted to take France out of America’s sphere of influence. She had proposed the replacement of the WTO and the abolition of the IMF. She was also against immigration and considered it a tool of spreading Islamic extremism.
Europe in general and France in particular heaved a sigh of relief after she lost the elections. She would have been a big disruptor in a world already reeling under the twin impact of Covid and the conflict in Ukraine.
What does Macron’s victory portend for France, Europe and for the world? In the absence of Angela Merkel, Macron will determine the future of Europe, and the path it will take for the next five years as France is now the de facto leader of Europe.
Macron’s policies vis-à-vis the pandemic, the climate emergency, purchasing power, cost of living, immigration and above all the conflict in Ukraine to a large extent will determine how European geopolitics shapes up.
Macron has steered clear of the classic left-right divide of politics and followed a centrist approach to issues. He promoted liberalism and condemned Islamism. He is a staunch believer in secularism but that did not deter him from upholding the French identity.
During his previous tenure from 2017 to 2022, France’s GDP grew at 7%, unemployment dropped to 7.2% and the crime rate fell to 27%. He also cracked down on radical Islam. He instituted laws on countering Islamic extremism. He put a ban on foreign funding of Mosques in France.
He imposed tougher measures on immigration. Even on Ukraine, Macron acted like a statesman playing the role of a bridge between Russia and America. He managed to negotiate talks between Washington DC and Moscow without mincing words on criticizing both sides. He termed Russia as the aggressor but also coaxed Europe to realize the geopolitical reality of Ukraine.
His critics argued that he is a champion of the rich and works only for the elite and is totally disconnected from the masses. They also point to the fact that he did not keep his promise of changing the pension system where workers could retire at 65 instead of 62.
The labour reforms he introduced met with severe resistance from the labour unions. There were countless yellow vest demonstrations against his labour laws. He could not deliver on the gender equality that he promised during his previous campaign. The matter was put on the back burner during his tenure.
Feminists feel let down by him. The pay disparity on the basis of gender has not been filled. Cases of domestic violence rose sharply during his presidency.
These are pending issues which Macron may take up in his second tenure. All said and done, the French feel reassured in his leadership, and Europe is hoping for a swift resolution of the Ukraine issue. As they say, all is well that ends well.
edited and proofread by nikita sharma