Europe at the risk of division

Friday, 2017-02-10 10:47:41
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Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for the French 2017 presidential election, attends the 2-day FN political rally to launch the presidential campaign in Lyon, France February 5, 2017.
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NDO – Populism is developing vigorously in Western countries and played a major role in the controversial ‘Brexit’ of the UK as well as the victory of Donald Trump’s Presidential election in the US. Western countries are now facing the risk of facing a new political shock as France's far-right National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen who has an anti-EU stance has taken dominance in French election polls.

The race to presidency of France in April and May has entered the final stage. Official candidates of the nominee parties have been declared, including former Prime Minister François Fillon on the right wing, former Education Minister Benoît Hamon on the left wing, Marine Le Pen on the far-right, and Emmanuel Macron. Among them, Marine Le Pen has risen up to become a key candidate. She is a populist and is considered as the “Donald Trump of France” due to the common views seen in both of their presidential campaigns. If Le Pen wins the election, the EU will face a huge challenge as she has promised to put France first and voted for France’s liberation from the EU.

In her presidential election campaign, Le Pen has criticised the EU and the Eurozone, applauded Britain's decision to leave the European Union, and urged the French to emulate Trump voters “who put their own national interests first.” She pledged that the FN Party would focus on domestic issues rather than global issues.

Officially launching her presidential campaign in Lyon, Le Pen declared to “give France its freedom back and give the people a voice” while proposing France to leave the EU. The female populist candidate also holds a tough stance on immigration as she proposed slapping taxes on the job contracts of foreigners, hiring 15,000 police, and curbing migrants. She even compared Muslims prayers in French streets to the Nazi occupation of France.

According to recent polls, Le Pen is expected to gain enough support in the first-round vote on April 23, but may face difficulties in the second round on May 7. Her mainstream opponent is Emmanuel Macron, a candidate rising from the En Marche! (Forward!) political movement, who is expected to bridge the left-right divide in France.

Observers said that the French presidential election contains elements of surprise and the unexpected while opportunities are now equal for the two candidates. Le Pen is shown by polls to score 25% in a first-round vote set for April 23, with independent candidate Emmanuel Macron on 22%. However, Emmanuel Macron is predicted to gain a bigger advantage against the far-right leader in the second-round runoff on May 7.

Analysts said that public opinion polls are for reference only, pointing out the reality that populism has won in the Brexit referendum in the UK and in the US Presidential election at the end of 2016. The rise of populism also shocked the EU the same year as it forced Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to resign after he lost in the referendum on constitutional reform. Populism has been booming across Europe, from the Netherlands to Poland, from Switzerland to Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic, the dissatisfaction of people with issues such as the wealth gap, terrorism and the immigration wave has posed a strong impact on their votes, thus leading to unexpected consequences.

Le Pen has benefited from the rise of populism in the US and many Western countries. Thus, her victory in the French presidential election could well be a reality. In case the “Donald Trump of France” wins, it is possible that Paris will follow London to leave the EU. Thus, it can be said that the French election is sounding the alarm for the EU about the risk of division in an age when populism is rising.