Supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon who are thinking of sitting out the second voting round of the French presidential election ought to take a lesson from Bernie Sanders’ supporters in the United States. When they abstained from the 2016 presidential election, or voted for Green party candidate Jill Stein, they made it possible for Donald Trump to win.
Just 1.5 out of 136 million Americans voted for Stein. Another 100,000 wrote in Sanders’ name (in the fourteen states where that was allowed), even though he wasn’t a candidate and had endorsed Hillary Clinton.
But those 1.6 million votes made the difference. Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, three states Barack Obama had won four years earlier, by a margin of less than 1 percent and a total of 75,000 votes. In all three states, the votes for Stein could have tipped the balance in Clinton’s favor, which would have given her, not Trump, an Electoral College majority.
Polls for the French runoff on Sunday aren’t so tight. Emmanuel Macron, the incumbent, is polling at 53 to 56 percent. But that is far less than the 66 percent he won against Marine Le Pen five years ago.
Macron placed first in the opening round a week ago with 28 percent support. Le Pen placed second with 23 percent. Mélenchon, who placed third with 22 percent, was eliminated from the contest.
Green party candidate Yannick Jadot and center-right candidate Valérie Pécresse, who also didn’t make the runoff, have endorsed Macron. The far-right Éric Zemmour has thrown his weight behind Le Pen.
Mélenchon has urged his supporters not to vote for Le Pen, but he hasn’t endorsed Macron. The socialists can’t forgive the president for liberalizing labor law, which made it easier for companies to hire and fire workers; deregulating small and medium-sized businesses; ending automatic pay rises and early retirement at the state railway; and conditioning state funding for religious institutions on their support of republican values, including the separation of church and state.
But they should credit Macron for spending nearly half a trillion euros on furloughs, subsidies and tax breaks to cushion the economic impact of COVID-19; penalizing companies that made excessive use of short-term contracts; extending welfare to one million more households; making dental services, eyeglasses and hearing aids free; and canceling the Grand Ouest Airport, which environmentalists opposed.
Lesser of evils
Hillary Clinton may not have been a socialist, but she wouldn’t have added $7 trillion in debt and given the richest Americans a tax cut. She wouldn’t have denied federal aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, nor cruelly separated 2,000 immigrant children from their parents. She wouldn’t have repealed eighty environmental rules and regulations, nor withdrawn from thirteen international agreements and organizations, including the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization. She wouldn’t have nominated three conservative justices to the Supreme Court. For left-wing Americans, Clinton was clearly preferable to Trump.
Macron is not a socialist either, but his plans for a second term are closer to the left’s than Le Pen’s.
Trumping EU law
Macron is pro-EU. Le Pen no longer calls for an immediate exit from the EU, nor would she give up the euro, but she has proposed to hold a referendum on France’s membership.
She would privilege French over European law, which is unworkable in a union of 27 sovereign states. It would put France on the side of Hungary and Poland, and divide Europe at a time when there is a land war on its eastern border.
One reason Le Pen wants to trump EU law is to give the native French priority in employment and public housing. Currently EU governments cannot discriminate against the nationals of other member states.
Le Pen would end family reunification as a criterion for residence and only consider asylum applications made abroad rather than in France. Unlike Mélenchon, Macron does not propose to liberalize immigration laws, but he wouldn’t tighten them either.
Le Pen would reintroduce mandatory minimum prison sentences, which were abolished under the last Socialist government. She also wants a referendum on the death penalty, which France abolished 1981.
Dismantle wind farms
Macron has proposed to double onshore wind power, build fifty offshore wind farms and increase solar energy output tenfold by 2050. His €50 billion green energy plan is no less ambitious than Mélenchon’s. Le Pen would dismantle French wind farms on land.
Leftists may be disappointed that Macron has changed his mind on nuclear power. He ran against it in 2017. Now, in order to wean Europe off Russian gas and oil, he would build six new reactors. But Le Pen has always been in favor of nuclear energy.
Le Pen, like Mélenchon, would renationalize motorways in order to abolish tolls. But she also wants to privatize public broadcasting. Macron would do neither.