With the surprise election of Donald Trump and passage of the Brexit referendum, 2016 was a watershed year for the political establishment. Although, 2017 is shaping up to be even more of a game changer. Numerous countries have elections scheduled that will determine the fate of their institutions. France is the most recent country to hold a Presidential election this year and it was a major blow to their long established political parties. France’s largest centre-right party and socialist party both failed to place in the top two of the first round. Neither party will be in the runoff election for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic.
France’s Fifth Republic was founded in 1958 after the shot-lived post World War II Fourth Republic collapsed. Since its founding nearly sixty years ago, France’s political landscape has always been dominated by the duality of a traditional centre-right party and socialist party. The names have changed over the years and various centrist parties have come and gone but the mainstream right-left dichotomy has remained for nearly six decades. That changed in 2017 when Les Republicans and Parti Socialiste were defeated by upstart anti-establishment parties. Economic Minister Emmanuel Macron won the first round with a slight majority. Marine Le Pen edged out the leader of Les Republicans for second place.
These results are quite a mixed bag. The deaths of the ineffectual establishment parties should be celebrated but not if they are replaced with inferior alternatives. Thankfully, the platform of Emmanuel Macron’s party En Marche! is a major improvement from the platform of the Parti Socialiste that he abandoned. Macron believes in free market economic policies and has proposed major tax and spending cuts as well as public sector reforms for France’s struggling economy. If he should prevail in the second round, and his party succeeds in electing a substantial number of representatives, he could enact long needed changes.
Ironically, the economic platform of Marine Le Pen’s party is the opposite. Unusual for a far-right party, the National Front’s platform is markedly anti-free market. They haven’t proposed any of the major market reforms or privatization programs that the centre-left party of Macron has suggested. In fact, Le Pen supports increasing certain regulations in a vain attempt at protectionism. She would have the government be responsible for health, education, transportation, banking and energy – a dramatic increase from the design of the centre-left reformers. The National Front’s ascension at the expense of the centre-right Les Republicans is a notable step backward for France.
Nonetheless, it appears that the protectionist National Front has likely hit or is near their support ceiling. On the other hand, the free market supporting En Marche! is likely to pick up the pieces of the other centrist and centre-right parties before the final round. Supporters of classically liberal free market principles should hope that Emmanuel Macron is able to prevail and enact the reforms he has proposed. France is in desperate need of economic revitalization and protectionism must be avoided at all costs.