Long-term interests should be the main consideration for France’s voters

Populist candidates have been riding a wave of anti-establishment feeling, but a turn to isolationism would be a disaster for the world

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 1:48am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 1:48am

The anti-establishment sentiment that led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency and Britons voting to leave the European Union abounds in France. Four of the five leading candidates in today’s presidential election are either from the extremes of the political spectrum or do not want to be associated with a particular ideology. Several, the far-right Marine Le Pen of the National Front most prominent among them, are so radical in their beliefs that they want to ditch the euro, break up the euro zone and Nato and put an end to globalisation. Such outcomes would be so disastrous for unity and the world’s economy and security that it is to be hoped the French think carefully about which two candidates they want to go through to the decisive round of voting on May 7.

Not for 60 years has France been so undecided before a presidential election. Voters have for decades opted for a mainstream candidate from either the Republican right or the Socialist left. But as in the US and Britain, workers and the less-educated have become disillusioned and are eager to listen to those offering different views. Le Pen has won wide support among such people, who believe their lives will be improved by protectionist and isolationist policies like keeping out migrants and restoring the franc as the French currency.

Two of the other front-runners, the Socialists’ Benoit Hamon and the Communists’ Jean-Luc Melenchon, are also anti-EU, the latter to the point of seeking to bring about a “citizens’ revolution”. France is a founding member and integral part of the EU; it is a counterweight and partner to the other central member, Germany. Britain’s leaving can be tolerated by Brussels, but a French departure would surely mean the union’s breakup.

Centre-right candidate Francois Fillon is still in the running despite having been placed under investigation for abuse of the parliamentary payroll. That leaves technocrat and former minister Emmanuel Macron, who refuses to say where on the left-right spectrum his politics lie, the only leading candidate dedicated to keeping France in the EU. His platform is at least reasonable though, being centred on embracing openness and diversity, trimming public spending, reforming the labour market and putting new life into the EU.

A spate of terrorist attacks has sown insecurity, sparking debates about migration, Islam and French identity. The fatal shooting on Thursday of a policeman in central Paris in an attack claimed by Islamic State has prompted a security alert. Unemployment remains high at more than 10 per cent. French voters are understandably in the mood for change, but they need to consider their country’s long-term interests when casting ballots.