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Rightward shift, Macron’s fault

Summary:
How can we explain the rightward shift of the French political landscape? Even if the question is complex and admits of multiple answers, there is little doubt that the experience of Macronism in power bears an overwhelming responsibility. Let us be clear: the dispersion of candidates on the left and the discouraging effect on voters also contribute to explaining this situation. However, this explanation is insufficient. If we take the total of all the left-wing candidates (socialists, ecologists, insoumis, communists, etc.), the total is a figure that is dismally low. According to the latest opinion poll carried out by Le Monde in December among 10928 people, the total of those intending to vote for a left-wing candidate in the first round of the presidential election scheduled for 10

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How can we explain the rightward shift of the French political landscape? Even if the question is complex and admits of multiple answers, there is little doubt that the experience of Macronism in power bears an overwhelming responsibility.

Let us be clear: the dispersion of candidates on the left and the discouraging effect on voters also contribute to explaining this situation. However, this explanation is insufficient. If we take the total of all the left-wing candidates (socialists, ecologists, insoumis, communists, etc.), the total is a figure that is dismally low. According to the latest opinion poll carried out by Le Monde in December among 10928 people, the total of those intending to vote for a left-wing candidate in the first round of the presidential election scheduled for 10 April 2022 is only just 27%, as compared with a total of 29% if we totalise the two far-right candidates (Zemmour and Le Pen), 17% for the right-wing candidate (Pécresse) and 24% for the incumbent president (who, for simplicity’s sake, can be placed on the centre-right, and is more and more perceived as such by the voters). Nowhere in our neighbouring countries do we see such weakness of the left. Social democratic, socialist, labour or democratic parties are in power in Germany and Spain, or in a position to return to power in the next elections, in the UK and Italy.

It is true that the Parti socialiste has been in power in France for twenty of the last forty years, which may have given rise to a special kind of fatigue. By comparison, the Social Democrats were in power for only 7 years in Germany (1998-2005) and Labour for 13 years in the UK (1997-2010). Only in Spain have the Socialists been in power longer, which eventually fuelled a split in the left with the emergence of Podemos, which both parties struggled to overcome, finally governing together. In France, the centre-left should probably have recognised its mistakes in power and turned more to LFI (La France insoumise) after the 2017 collapse. That might not have been enough, but there is still time to try.

The veer to the extreme right of the French political landscape can also be explained by other specific factors, starting with a particularly virulent post-colonial and Franco-Algerian trauma in France. Nostalgia for French Algeria and the breeding ground for xenophobia surrounding these wounds which are still easily reopened have thus played a central role in the emergence of both Lepénisme and Zemmourism.

All this is true, but it is not enough to account for the current situation. If France has become particularly right-wing, it is also and above all because Macronism in power has shifted a good part of the voters and elected officials from the centre-left to the centre-right, and even further and further to the right. On the economic front, Macron has applied the right-wing agenda: abolition of the ISF (Impôt sur la fortune /Wealth tax), flat tax on dividends, deregulation of the labour market, absolute priority given to the « first in line » (premiers de cordée), with the consequences we know during the « yellow waistcoats » (gilets jaunes) crisis and a lasting discredit brought to any idea of a carbon tax in France. Having been robbed of its economic platform, the right then embarked on a chase with the far right, with considerable anti-migrant and anti-Muslim diatribes, as we witnessed during the LR primary.

The Macronist government itself, no longer knowing how to address the working classes, has begun to mimic the most extreme right. In particular, in recent years it has contributed to trivialising the nauseating rhetoric about the « Islamo-leftist gangrene in universities », a detestable phraseology that came from the far right before being taken up by a government that nevertheless relies in part on voters from the centre-left. It  has thus powerfully fuelled the current right-wing trend, which it now wants to counteract, like an arsonist turned fire-fighter.

What can we conclude from all this? First of all, it would be healthy for Macron’s supporters to realise this drift and draw the consequences. Either they approve of it and in that case vote for Pécresse: the difference between the two is infinitesimal, and this would restore clarity to the political landscape. It is all too easy for wealthy voters to have all the fiscal and financial advantages of Macronism while giving themselves a cheap conscience of so-called « progressivism ». After all, there is nothing nefarious about voting for a pro-business and slightly nationalistic right. Or they disapprove of this drift and in that case they go back to vote for the left in the first round (there is no shortage of choice…).

Secondly and most importantly, all those who do not recognise themselves in this cynicism must come together to overcome their differences around a platform based on social, fiscal and environmental justice. It is urgent to reorient the construction of Europe and the rules of globalisation, and this will require a balance of power and unilateral measures (for example, on the minimum taxation of profits located in tax havens or on the carbon tax at the borders), but also constructive proposals of a social-federalist type, such as the creation of a European Assembly between the countries that wish to do so, with the power to vote for common taxes and to promote another development model.  If the left abandons democratic and universalist internationalism and allows the market-based and the falsely European internationalism of the centre-right (whether Macronian or Pécressian) to flourish, then it too will only contribute to preparing xenophobic nationalism to come to power in the more or less long term.

Thomas Piketty
Thomas Piketty (7 May 1971) is a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is a professor (directeur d'études) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), associate chair at the Paris School of Economics and Centennial professor at the London School of Economics new International Inequalities Institute.

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