France’s 2022 presidential election will likely be an influential moment in Europe’s current political atmosphere and an indication for which direction of the political spectrum Western Europe is heading towards. Emmanuel Macron, president of the French republic since 2017, has been revered in American left media for his social liberalism yet pro-business economic agenda. In actuality, to the French, he is a lot more centrist than the way Americans perceive him largely due to how non-progressive America’s left is. His stances on being both economically and socially liberal, while being fiercely pro European union has made his performance reviews highly distinct depending on what side of the political spectrum you’re asking from. While French socialists view him as a president of the rich, and the far-right view him as far too liberal and sympathetic to immigrants, his candidacy marks a polarity that exists and is growing in France today.
Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, once stood as a prominent threat to Macron in 2016 with her popularity amongst an increasingly loud far-right population. Her anti-immigrant rhetoric, economic nationalism and inflammatory xenophobic stances within the domestic sphere rendered her popularity and existence similar to that of Trump. While she was beaten, quite largely, in the last election, her role in French politics has made the far-right’s existence far more persistent on the grander political stage. So much so that both presidential candidates Eric Zemmour and Valerie Pecresse seem like increasingly formidable candidates as we get closer to the election date.
All three of the aforementioned candidates capitalize off of their anti-immigrant rhetoric, support of economic protectionism and stance on French nationalism. Zemmour has appeared countlessly on various media outlets, similar to Trump in his days before the 2016 presidential election, to spew xenophobic solutions to France’s growing social and economic problems. From saying that African immigrants should change their names to French-sounding ones to consistently claiming that immigration, feminism and left-wing politics has eroded the French identity, Zemmour’s rhetoric is meant to be inflammatory. His existence, along with Le Pen’s and Pecresse’s, normalizes these far-right xenophobic notions on the political stage. Similarly, Pecresse represents a growing mentality amongst centrists and right supporters that the “zones” in France, predominantly constituting black and Arab people, must be “cleaned” up. The ideas that have taken root is the cultural inferiority of these ethnic groups which have led them to be “different” and marginalized in French society. The blame for discrminiation and inequality is placed on the minority for continuing to be and express themselves as a minority rather than assimilate wholly as “French.” Minority religions, cultural traditions and generational customs are used as reasons for why these populations in France simply have not been able to excel in social mobility, rather than the active ostracization and discrminiation that is against them.
As France has seen, Arab and black populations within the country have been consistently exposing the existence of social inequalities based on racial and religious discrimination. The riots, general tension and growing political debate indicates this controversial attempt to understand what identity is to France and how it correlates to the equal (and in this case, unequal) distributions of equality and liberty. The emergence of far-right leaders and politics onto mainstream politics serves not as a solution to the “problem” of minorities, but as more fuel for the exacerbation of social inequality. It is a complete denial of the issue at hand being the active discrimination against “foreign” identites. As seen in the United States, Trump’s rise to power was witnessed by all, it was not an overnight phenomenon, but a trend of popularity that we could clearly see. His inflammatory rhetoric and hateful speech were not what made him more unpopular, as the left seemed to have wanted, but made him all the more popular. Evidently, France ought to take the American case of Trump as a severe warning sign for the inevitable rise of the far-right. The popularization of these presidential candidates indicates a growing population of political thought based on the marginalization and exploitation of all minorities. Undoubtedly, the potential win for one of these candidates would signal a stark difference in how Western Europe and the European Union will respond to future social issues, and how they will act economically with the rest of the world. What I have seen is a deep need for France to redefine what French identity is, and to realize that Western Europe’s progressivism can only survive if it is intersectional.