Author : Aline Robert |

Date: 21/4/2017




It has been a very long presidential race in France. But the country is still waiting for a real political debate.

Unemployment is becoming a French pattern. It widens gaps between social classes, between young and old. The country is strongly divided between rich and poor, towns and suburbs, Paris and the countryside.

Trust in institutions, politicians and journalists is dead. But the issues that have defined the campaign have mostly been superficial. When they have not been totally fake, that is.

The first signs of this political fatigue appeared at the beach last summer. The August tranquility was breached when a stinking debate about the ‘burkini’, a swimming outfit, exploded.

It turned into a national debate as politicians saw an opportunity to start a fight… About a bathing suit.

The tone was a given: angry words, radical stances, and fake news and pictures started invading the public sphere.

At the very least, psychotherapists must have been happy: a lot of anger has been expressed.

Right-wing voters were delighted to kick Sarkozy out during the primary election in October.

Melenchon supporters couldn’t hide their joy over the candidate’s embracing of the “degagism” concept, a scary mix of a clearance sale and a guillotine, which is hard to understand if you are not the left-wing leader.

This thirst for revenge also sent former Prime Minister Manuel Valls back to the municipal council of his suburban home in Corbeil, after he failed in the primary as well.

The far-right shamelessly exploited explicit racism, focussing on terror and stopping immigration.

Add to this the fact that right-wing candidate Francois Fillon refused to quit when he was accused of giving fake jobs to his wife and kids, and the campaign was quickly over.

Emmanuel Macron obviously benefited from the general appetite for change. As a Europhile and a liberal, he was also the candidate most targeted by fake news, either from the far-right or the far-left.

Rumours of Macron being gay, of having foreign bank accounts and wanting to heavily tax homeowners, never stopped.

He was also caricatured as a Jew in a drawing that could have been the work of the Nazis – but it turned out to be a product of the official Les Republicains campaign.

All of this hardly makes for a meaningful political campaign, and now the French are facing a hard choice: picking between four candidates who are very close in the polls (Macron, Le Pen, Fillon or Melenchon) and who account for 80% of public opinion.

Or one of the seven other candidates. Some of them are good enough to be a real threat to the others – as in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the second round.

History might repeat itself on Sunday for his daughter, or left challenger Melenchon might make the cut. Both extremists have benefited from the absence of any real political campaign.

The Inside Track

They can’t be serious. A statement about a potential union between Albania and Kosovo, by the former’s prime minister, has angered officials in Belgrade, who’ve asked Brussels to take a stand on the issue.

Eastern block. The Albanian parliament failed to elect a new president on Wednesday after the governing Socialists decided not to offer a candidate in the first round of voting.

Invest in the left.  The Serbian left has been the most active element in the recent protests against the presidential election. The largest demonstrations since Milosevic’s toppling in 2000, one pundit says progressives have opened a space to reverse the country’s decline.

Starvation works. Food rations and stipends will no longer be provided to asylum seekers at a refugee camp in southern Hungary.

Hunger makes you violent. From South America to the Middle East, the effects of climate change appear to exacerbate the problems of organised crime and terrorism.

Tell them to send coffee. A planned free-trade deal between the EU and South America’s Mercosur could double Europe’s exports to the region within five years, according to EU sources close to the negotiations.

Blame it on the weather. US research centre Pew reports that religious freedom in Denmark declined significantly between 2007 and 2015, leaving it among Europe’s worst 25% of countries. Reasons cited include anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and the harassment of Christian asylum seekers.

Dual loyalty fear. Over 100,000 eligible-to-vote Turks live in Austria. It is estimated 10% of those illegally hold dual citizenship. Austria’s interior minister wants to take action following Sunday’s Turkish referendum.

Still not a third column. The EU’s Turkish diaspora voted overwhelmingly in favour of granting Recep Tayyip Erdogan more power in the same referendum. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll vote populist in European polls.

No more cheap labour. The president of the Romanian Senate shared his concerns with Frans Timmermans on Thursday about the idea of a ‘two-speed Europe’, insisting the EU should learn from the lessons of the Communist period.

Fake news. The National Front’s presidential candidate has made a symbolic scapegoat of the European flag during her campaign. But the flag is not actually an official symbol under EU law.

Homeward bound. Moldova has been granted observer status by the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), in another shift towards Moscow following the election of its new pro-Russian president.

Show trial. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) would like to destroy Donald Tusk, the personal enemy of its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, according to Roman Imielski.

The Economist once called this a recovery. According to the Spanish statistics office, Spain has the EU’s third highest rate of child poverty, after Romania and Greece.

Made in Italy. Beginning this week, Italian dairy product labels will have to show the origin of their ingredients. Italy’s agriculture minister hopes the experiment will be copied by other European countries equally anxious about geolocating their food sources.