Election in France: Europe's moment of truth?

The eleven candidates in the French presidential elections answered questions from journalists on Thursday night in 15-minute interviews. The polls predict a four-way neck-and-neck race between Macron, Le Pen, Mélenchon and Fillon. Europe's very existence is at stake in this election, the press stresses, and explains why French-German relations need a boost.

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Jornal de Negócios (PT) /

The EU would be doomed without France

This election will decide the future of the entire EU, Jornal de Negócios stresses:

“The presidential election in France is far more decisive for the joint future of Europe and the Eurozone than Brexit or Donald Trump's election. The EU can survive - albeit with difficulty - with the new US president and without Britain. But it can't exist without the German-French axis. And even if a huge, almost insurmountable constitutional hurdle lies between the desire for 'Frexit' and its realisation, with dialogue partners like Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon [both of whom are champions of nationalism and protectionism] it would be increasingly difficult to tackle common challenges such as immigration and economic growth.”

Kauppalehti (FI) /

Nightmare runoff would be Le Pen vs. Mélenchon

A runoff vote between Le Pen and Mélenchon would spell the end for European integration, Kauppalehti also fears:

“The leader of the Front National, Marine Le Pen, who wants to close the borders to immigrants and take her country out of the Eurozone, has garnered the most interest outside France. ... From the perspective of the EU and international business, the worst option would be for Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon to reach the second round. Apart from taking France out of the EU, Mélenchon's platform includes cutting the work week and raising taxes by a considerable amount. ... European integration may be able to cope with the Brexit, but not with the departure of EU founder state France. A victory for the radical candidates would also be yet another heavy blow for free trade.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Berlin and Paris must reform EU

The EU must make significant changes after the French elections, German Green Party MEPs Franziska Brantner and Sven Giegold urge in Le Monde:

“Europe is an important topic in the French election campaign. Pro-European voices have made concrete proposals, even if the tone has been set by the many anti-Europeans. The unease over Europe is also linked to German politics. As Europe's biggest economic power, Germany should usher in the necessary reforms of the European Union together with France, if only in its own interest. The current German government has refused to take that step for years. Yet many people in Germany also want a better Europe and are unhappy with the current policies of Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.”

Lost in EUrope (DE) /

Where France is better than Germany

There is a tendency in Germany to paint a picture of a desolate France that has little to do with reality, writes Eric Bonse in his blog Lost in Europe:

“ It starts with productivity. According to the OECD France has been ahead of Germany for years here; recently the biggest EU country actually fell behind internationally. And also in terms of foreign investment France cuts a better figure than Germany. True, UNCTAD [UN Conference on Trade and Development] figures show that the gap between the two has closed somewhat recently but there can be no talk of investors bailing out. The statistics on poverty also stand out. Although there are more people without jobs in France there are fewer poor people, the [Paris-based research institute] OFCE concluded back in 2013. Not much has changed in this respect. On the contrary, the poverty problem has become so serious in Germany under the supposedly tremendously successful grand coalition that even the EU Commission has voiced dismay.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Democracy has become a black box

As with other recent elections it is impossible to make dependable predictions on the result of the French presidential race, the Wiener Zeitung believes:

“At the moment the relationship between the people and politics is like a black box, where it's completely unclear what's going on. A hefty dose of chance and arbitrariness holds sway. In science, the repeatability of processes is one of the most important preconditions for filtering out reliable information. But most of the democratic decisions in the recent past have produced more questions than answers and would no doubt now lead to very different results if we could repeat them today. That goes as much for the Brexit vote as it does for the US elections. And perhaps even Alexander Van der Bellen's election victory in Austria was only as clear-cut as it was because there were three attempts in total.”

Libération (FR) /

Candidates want to emulate Trump's success

In the neck-and-neck race between the four strongest candidates the votes of the as yet undecided working class will tip the balance, Libération believes:

“The Front National could emerge from the elections as France's strongest workers' party. If that's the case, however, Marine Le Pen will have to stand up to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose popularity is constantly rising among the working class. ... Many in France - bureaucrats, farmers, residents of underprivileged and rural areas - feel they've been abandoned by the political class. ... One must bear in mind the recent US elections, where the self-styled representative of those left on the sidelines emerged victorious. Of course, the factors that led to Trump's election are more complex than that. Nevertheless this victory is etched in the minds of those who want the keys to the Elysée.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

Elitist left driving voters into Le Pen's arms

The success of Marine Le Pen shows how the left has distanced itself from its own core voters, Aftonbladet comments:

“The populist anti-establishment mood that brought about the Brexit and Trump's victory may not be just a passing aberration, but the new norm. But that doesn't mean that the economy and the conflicts between the right and left have become irrelevant. There is widespread frustration over the growing class differences and the feeling of being left in the lurch by the elite. ... Marine Le Pen's voters come from the French working class. There are numerous reasons why the leftist parties have failed, but the most important is their elitism. A leftist who looks down on others is doomed to failure.”

Imerisia (GR) /

Euro was a mistake for France

The French people became alienated from their politicians long before the current legislative period, the business paper Imerisia points out:

“They don't just despise the crisis policy of Hollande and Sarkozy. They also despise the strategic decision taken by then president François Mitterrand and his finance minister Jacques Delors in 1983 to embark on the long march toward a monetary union. ... France regularly accepted stringent demands to convince Germany to abandon the deutschmark. Paris did this with the expectation that the framework of the European currency would be far more flexible, but that wasn't the case. The first warning that France's adaptation to Germany's requirements is incompatible with social and political stability came in the spring of 2002, when the right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the second round of the presidential elections.”

Sega (BG) /

President will govern without backing

Should Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron make it into the second round, the French would be faced with two candidates who lack the necessary parliamentary support, Sega explains:

“Neither the one nor the other can govern the country because unlike Erdoğan, who will now be able to rule by decree, the French president has no way of leapfrogging parliament. Le Pen's Front National has only two deputies and Macron doesn't even know which parties will support him. ... Similarly, the new president will not receive anything like a strong backing from parliament in the elections to the National Assembly in June, meaning that France will slide into a state of permanent political crisis.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

French voters impoverished and scared

The latest polls speak volumes about the state of the country, Corriere della Sera points out:

“Five days before the election, total uncertainty prevails. Two of the potential final round contenders, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melénchon, who represent the populist, anti-European far right and the popular nationalist, centralist far left, respectively, have 40 percent of the vote between them. A number that says a lot about the feelings of the French, about the extent of the economic and social crisis and the loss of identity. As far apart as the ideologies of the two candidates are, both are attracting their voters in a France that is impoverished, afraid of globalisation and, not without reason, hostile to a Europe of austerity and technocracy.”

Le Point (FR) /

Complete loss of common sense

The economic situation in France is worse than ever yet most of the presidential candidates are completely ignoring this, Le Point sighs:

“The grand televised presidential debate, which was above all grand due to the denial of the economic reality during almost four hours, illustrated in a way that was as striking as it was horrifying the state of extreme mental confusion the country - and almost all those who aspire to lead it - are in today. Even more than the catastrophic GDP, unemployment and foreign trade statistics, this is the very essence of the economic failure of François Hollande's presidency: the defeat of reason and the complete absence of common sense. ... Five years of Hollandism have plunged France into an acute crisis of economic delirium.”