BY: Sylvain Mionnet
On Sunday, April 22 the French people went to the polls for the first round in order to choose their new president.
The campaign has been going on for several months now, yet it has had little echo in the United States except for the greatest newspapers such as the New York Times. So how is this election for the most important function in France perceived in the U.S.?
Stephen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at the Kennesaw State University explains that it depends on whether we talk about the population or about the government elites.
Even though the average American may not pay much attention to it, the political class does: “The American political class is very aware of the potential consequences of this election”. Indeed, he adds that France has major influence in Europe, which has itself great influence worldwide. He adds that the election will draw more attention as it moves toward the final runoff.
A bad image of the candidates?
The article published in the British Magazine The Economist that accused the French presidential campaign of ignoring the real issues like unemployment or budget deficit. Indeed, most of the campaign has been constituted of back and forth small phrases, attacks between the candidates, which sometimes ended in lawsuits.
Collins explains that it is to be related to “an increasing Americanization of politics” in France: “This is to reach voters which are not sophisticated: the most effective way is by shooting some sound bites that foster doubt.”
A potential change in the diplomatic relations
The first round of the election selected François Hollande, the socialist candidate, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the outgoing president from the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) to face each other in the runoff on May 6. Hollande had a slight advantage, but is considered the favorite to win.
Considering the good relations between the France and the US since the election of Sarkozy in 2007, one can wonder how Hollande’s election would change the situation.
To Collins, it would probably retrograde the quality of the relations, considering how openly pro-American Sarkozy was. Hollande’s arrival at power could mean a cooling between the two nations, considering how critical he was of the Wall Street finance world during the campaign.
A high score of the extreme, revealing of a general discontent
One of the major facts of this election is the good scores of the extremes. Marine Le Pen’s National Front (far right) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Left Front respectively scored 18.5 and 11.5%. The score of the communist Left Front especially is noticeable, since it had been since 1981 that a communist party realized a double-digit score in a national election.
To Collins, this can be interpreted as a protest vote against the power in place, and maybe its management of the euro crisis alongside with Germany. Marine Le Pen’s result especially, who arrived in third position, has significance because it makes her a potential king-maker, although she advised her voters to vote blank, which would never happen with an independent candidate in the US.
The high scores of the extremes is also to be related historically to crisis times: Collins explains that we can draw a “parallel between this election period in Europe with the 1930s”, where people tended to turn to the extremes because of the Great Depression.