Is France sleepwalking towards ending Schuman’s dream ?
To my generation and the generation of my parent’s and grandparent’s the formation of European Union, or a common market for coal , steel and other goods was seen as a powerful tool to stop the fighting that had decimated Europe in the preceding 50 years. To put this into context Europe lay in ruins and only Marshall aid from the USA stopped it descending into further chaos. The older generations at the end of the Second World war surveyed not only countries laid to waste but also population’s .High amongst the suffering were France.
At the end of the First World War France had suffered over 2million boys and men killed with nearly 4million injured, 1.5 million of those permanently maimed. That translates into 60% of the male population between the ages of 18-28 that had been killed and 73% of all men mobilized. Just pause for a moment and reflect on these huge numbers and the impact this had on the nation, walk down as street and count 10 men and then take 6 away and see the gap that leaves or look at the stand at a football match and mentally empty it by over half .Tragic is the only word . France didn’t suffer so much in the Second World War from deaths and casualties as in reality it couldn’t as there were precious few boys left to die but they did suffer the ignominy of a brutal occupation and still lost a further 600,000 mainly men.
At the end of the First World War France, alongside the other victorious nations, wanted to exact revenge from Germany and in doing so laid the seeds for the establishment of the Nazis and the Second World War by demanding punitive reparations . Thankfully after the Second World War we had learnt something from history and out of a broken nation came the forerunner of the European community, as we now know it , the ECSC. The European Coal and Steel community was first proposed by Robert Schuman (French Foreign Minister at the time) on May 9th 1950 and seen as a tool to bind Europe together by trade following the thought process that countries that are reliant on each other for trade tend not to fight each other as Schuman said at the time his aim was to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”. After over 70 years of peaceful coexistence in Europe with closer ties than Schuman ever envisaged amongst more nations than he could ever have dreamt of it seems somewhat sadly ironic that France stands on the edge of an electoral decision that could have a profoundly damaging impact on the project.
It looks increasingly likely that the French election will be very close with all three candidates on pretty much level pegging in the polls. To an outsider Franҫois Fillon seems too tainted to succeed having paid his wife €1m for a non-existent job in the scandal known as Penelopegate . In French politics it seems acceptable to keep a mistress but paying your wife for being your wife is too much for the electorate and so it looks unlikely that either he or Hamon will make it through the first round. This leaves a centrist Macron, a left winger Mélonchon and a right winger Le Pen.If Macron , often perceived a Justin Trudeau light ,makes it through the first round he will beat whoever joins him in the second round vote which would be a nice easy outcome for the markets which would bumble on till the next European crisis , possibly in Greece or Italy as they are never far from imploding , and being cynical nothing much would change and as such it should lead to a strengthening of the Euro. And here lies the rub, is nothing changing good enough for the French Public ? Secondly if Hollande endorses Macron, his former economy minister will that reinforce the feeling of continuity of political thought process and be the kiss of death for him?
Suddenly it looks possible that Europe’s worst political nightmare is a possibility, a long shot but an increasing possibility. Fillon and Hamon out, the light weight Macron struggling under the endorsement of Hollande and then what do we have left? Mélonchon and Le Pen. There is never too much point in studying the small details of campaign promises but the headline policies are enough to send a severe shudder through the markets and put the Euro under strain. Le Pen has stated that “The French have been dispossessed of their patriotism. They are suffering in silence from not being allowed to love their country … The divide is no longer between the left and the right, but between the patriots and the globalists.” Le Pen’s manifesto p ledges to take France out of the Eurozone and – unless the EU agrees to revert to a loose coalition of nations with neither a single currency nor a border-free area – to hold a referendum on France’s EU membership.
Mélenchon looks like he is making a strong run in as we head for the first round vote next Sunday. He has been electrifying recently and has a ready wit as well as a fast mind as was shown by his strong showing in the TV debate. He has plans to not only tax the rich with a tax of 100% on incomes over €400,000, exchange controls but also crucially a referendum on whether France stays in the Euro and Europe unless Europe makes radical changes .Ouch .
History and numbers tend to have symmetry about them and wouldn’t it be Ironic that the new president will be decided by a run-off Vote on May 7th and if as it is starting to look more possible the run off is between Le Pen and Mélenchon it may well be that 67 years to the day that the dream started , May 9th 2017, that the first steps to unravel it are taken .We could be in for a very interesting ride indeed!