On May 7th of next year, Europe’s golden age of peace and prosperity could come to an end, as France votes in the second round of the presidential election.
Now: let me be clear. This is not hyperbole. In both the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election the progressive side of the argument laid it on thick. A vote for Trump or Brexit meant catastrophe, disaster, chaos. The voters didn’t believe it and they were right. My side were so hysterical at times that even if every thing we said had a grain of truth, and most of it did, we were left looking ridiculous after the result.
I’ve no doubt Brexit will still hurt the UK more than help it, but the UK will get by somehow. Trump is a different beast altogether, in that nobody (including, I suspect, the president-elect himself) knows quite what to expect. But whatever happens, it isn’t our problem to solve. Only Americans can do that.
But that leaves Le Pen and France. Watching Andrew Marr question her about remarks her father made 30 years ago about the Holocaust makes me fear that once again the liberal media don’t get it. The public don’t give a shit about what her father said. They care about whether she is talking about things that worry them in a a language they understand, and the answer is yes. Call her all the names you want: a Nazi, a racist, a fascist…it doesn’t matter. As with calling Trump a pervert, a racist, a misogynist, those labels are only cared about by people who aren’t going to vote for her anyway. She’s got the racist vote locked up, and knows it, and is going now for people who would never vote for her father but might vote for the pro-Israel pro-gay rights pro-choice Le Pen. The Le Pen who seems to have an economic vision where the political establishment has no answers but paralysis.
It’s that vision that should worry us. It’s very simple. France first. In jobs, investment, trade, she wants to raise protection against competition from foreign products and labour. It’s a very clean, simple message to sell. If you’re a farmer, the idea that your products on the shelves will be made more competitive because everybody else will be heavily tariffed or even barred. That you won’t have some Pole or Spaniard competing against you for a job. That she will return a New Franc that will be competitively devalued, a currency and a national budget under the control of the French and not some bureaucrat in Brussels or Frankfurt.
And that’s even before she starts rounding up the dark faces on the streets that scare you when they have a rucksack.
Taken at face value, it’s a very attractive proposition for many.
But as with pretty much every proposition put forward by the populist left or right, it refuses to face up to the complexity and integration of modern life.
For a start, France leaving the euro, which she has proposed, will break up the EU as anything other than a nominal entity. A France that devalues sharply will force Spain and Italy to do the same, and with France, Spain and Italy out of the euro it is the Deutsche Mark in everything but name. A sharply appreciating euro will destroy Germany’s exports, and coupled with French tariffs will almost certainly trigger retaliation protectionist measures. With that the single market is dead.
From an Irish perspective, by the way, the question will be asked. If there is no European single market, why would major exporters want to be based on a small island in the Atlantic?
Yes, we have to rely on France’s mainstream politicians to put up the defence, but given how that fared in the UK and US it’s not hopeful.
Assuming Italy doesn’t disintegrate politically and vote to exit the euro before May, France is it.
The front line.
France is where a Europe of free movement and cooperation and prosperity unknown in this continent’s history could come to an end. The freedom of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania hinges on how the people of Brest and Toulouse vote. If they vote for a woman who thinks that Putin is the victim and NATO a plot by the Baltics to intimidate Russia, we may well see the flickering light of free nations extinguished once against on the south coast of the Baltic sea.
May will decide what you tell your grandchildren, of a Europe free for all from Tallinn to Galway, or a forgotten backwater of small nations squabbling in an economic quagmire, shivering behind choking protectionism and border controls. A quaint place that once mattered, but now with our children scrabbling on the streets of once great European cities for coins scattered by Chinese tourists.
At its heart is the belief that things are terrible and can’t get any worse. It’s a belief that should be moronic to anyone with any knowledge of European history. This continent wrote the textbook on things getting worse.
Step up onto the bridge overlooking Birkenau’s entrance and see where the trains were unloaded, and tell me it can’t get any worse than it is now.
It can’t happen here?
Funny, I remember when Brexit and Trump couldn’t happen either.