The United States holds a major stake in France’s presidential election on Sunday, as voters in one of America’s oldest allies will choose between incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen.
The vote is seen as a referendum on the close ties that Macron has forged between France, the rest of Western Europe and the United States, and the push for a more independent France by populist Le Pen.
Le Pen is seen as close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has indicated that there would be a shift in France’s policies on Russia’s war in Ukraine if she was elected.
The American establishment is clearly hoping for a Macron victory, although the Biden administration has said publicly that it is closely monitoring the election and has emphasized that competition is a decision of the French people.
“I will not pre-empt elections in a foreign country,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this month. “Obviously we’ll be watching that closely, and I’m sure we’ll have more to talk to him once the results are out.”
Analysts say Marcon is likely to win another five-year term, but Le Pen’s third attempt at the French presidency has surprised observers with its strength.
Le Pen faced off against Macron in 2017, and her electoral strategy at the time was in line with and capitalized on former President Trump’s shock victory in 2016. Trump held off an official endorsement at the time but expressed support for her positions.
Her return to the center stage in 2022 indicates populist support for the far-right positions among part of the French people – and dissatisfaction with Macron.
Le Pen’s victory would be widely seen as a victory for Russia and a defeat for the United States and NATO.
“if [Le Pen] “This will be Vladimir Putin’s first major victory since his forces were checked out on the outskirts of Kyiv,” said Ben Judah, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“It’s a very important election for the United States,” he added, noting that a Le Pen victory would replace Macron’s tested and respected leadership on the European and global stage with “a leader who will be the least experienced, the least respected, the least confident.”
Le Pen’s victory may also signal the rejection of a closer and more integrated European Union (EU), which has played a key role in adopting measures to punish Russia in full swing with the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries that have joined the cause. such as Japan and Australia.
“The whole dynamism that we have seen over the past few decades of EU unification, becoming a kind of individual actor, more than a big player on the international scene, and all of that will be reflected, from the process of integration to the process of disintegration in Europe,” Judah said.
While recent opinion polls have Macron leading Le Pen by as much as 10 percentage points ahead of Sunday’s runoff election, her gains reflect what experts say is the politician’s strategy to seek to appeal to the mainstream — modifying and promoting some of her most extreme views. herself as a working single mother concerned about high inflation.
Laurie Palese, a former adviser to the French government and activist among the French diaspora in the United States, said:
Her strong performance in the elections shows that there is some popular support for her positions. Bales added.
The most important issue for French voters is the so-called purchasing power, the rising cost of everyday goods, gas and energy. While the French largely hold Russia responsible for waging war in Ukraine, their wallets have been hit by Western sanctions on Moscow.
Le Pen exploited these concerns as part of her campaign while downplaying her historical standing as a “largely pro-Russia, pro-Putin, and anti-American candidate,” Celia Beilin, a visiting fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, during a panel discussion.
“She focused on purchasing power, on social and economic issues,” Beilin said, and that focus allowed people to “forget her pro-Putin view.”
While Le Pen has condemned Putin for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she nonetheless advocates making France more independent of Europe, the United States, and NATO—while the United States and its allies have emphasized close coordination between these countries as an essential bulwark in isolating Moscow and making Putin a pariah.
“Le Pen is no longer directly proposing to leave the European Union or abandon the euro,” said Palese, who still considers her a “European skeptic.”
Le Pen wants to reduce France’s contributions to the European Union, leave NATO’s top decision-making council, increase controls over imports into the country, and strengthen bilateral European relations, particularly with Hungary and Poland, two countries that have been criticized as retreating from democratic freedoms. .
Its “political identity is more” a strong and individual Europe states,” referring to Le Pen’s view that national laws have more power than the unanimous actions reached by the EU Council.
It is an idea that matches the policies advocated by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban or Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Palese added.
While Le Pen has gained more popularity, her powerful presentation is also a reflection of domestic anger toward Macron, who has been criticized for prioritizing the war in Ukraine over French concerns.
Macron announced his candidacy for the presidency a day before the official deadline for the election campaign and “with a message to the French”. This created a public perception that Macron saw the presidential victory as guaranteed and that the election was “paperwork,” Beilin said.
She added, “This kind of involvement in high politics prevented him from really emerging as a national leader, caring about the French and their issues, and at some point, he started to provoke resentment.”
Balise said Macron’s apathy further reinforced the sense of disconnect between the public and political elites.
“Just like in the United States, what worries people the most and what politicians talk about doesn’t necessarily coincide,” she said. This creates mistrust towards the elite and a very fertile ground for populist movements. “
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