Will France’s 2022 Election Become a Political Volcano?

Elections in France and Germany may be pointing to a paradigm shift in global politics.
Peter Isackson Daily Devil’s Dictionary, France politics news, France election 2022, Germany election 2021, Germany Greens, Emmanuel Macron 2022, Marine Le Pen 2022, gilets jeunes France, yellow vest movement France, France COVID-19 lockdown

Yellow Vests protest, Paris, France, 12/1/2018 © Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

In just 12 months, French voters will be invited to judge Emmanuel Macron’s five years in office as president of the Fifth Republic. Most pundits in the media lazily assume it will boil down to a second-round repeat of the 2017 contest: Macron versus the right-wing firebrand, Marine Le Pen. Macron has the theoretical advantage of being the incumbent, but Le Pen has the practical advantage of challenging this largely unconvincing office-bearer. The French are seriously disappointed with Macron’s politics, much as they were with the two previous one-term presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.  

Reporting on the still-glowing embers of the famous but now dormant gilets jeunes movement that rocked France two years ago, Le Monde’s Marie Pouzadoux cites political scientist and professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, Pascal Perrineau, who has been following the yellow vest phenomenon since it started. He sees it as a deeply-rooted protest movement capable of re-emerging at any moment. After an initial loss of momentum during Macron’s so-called “great debate,” the outbreak of COVID-19 and restrictions on public assembly put the movement into a state of suspended animation. 


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Surveying the current political climate at the approach of next year’s presidential election, Pouzadoux notes that “the executive has in fact drawn ‘no lesson’ from this protest movement or from the demands raised during the ‘great debate’ that followed it.” Perrineau offers this account of the state of play: “Today, the yawning gap between certain categories of the people and the elites continues to widen, while discontent and mistrust are maintained by the vertical management of power.”

Perrineau sees a growing “climate of heterogeneous anger” that will open “an immense space” for Marine Le Pen in next year’s election. This is simply because, like Donald Trump in 2016, Le Pen represents the kind of anti-establishment gamble the voters, faced with an unpalatable choice, may now be ready to make. But, unlike the US, France’s tradition of protest and revolution opens another option. Perrineau senses the possible emergence of an inclusive protest movement that he calls “eruptive and emotional,” capable of effectuating what he calls “giletjaunisation” — the “’yellowvesting’ of French society.”

Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

Eruptive and emotive:

The equivalent in the world of politics of the trendy term “disruptive innovation” in the economy, presaging a paradigm change that no one anticipated

Contextual Note

France’s political landscape has been in a state of utter disarray for at least the past decade. It was that disarray that allowed Macron to sneak through the cracks and humiliate the powerful political parties that had comfortably shared or alternated authority during the six decades of the Fifth Republic. But France was not alone. The US and the UK in particular have seen a similar disarray among the electorate. Yet despite the radical cultural and psychological upheaval, traditional parties have maintained their domination and managed to confirm, however uncomfortably, their authority.

Unlike Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party in the US, the yellow vest movement never really disappeared into the folds of history. Another commentator cited in the article, political science professor Frédéric Gonthier, believes a remobilization of the movement is plausible, though no one is ready to forecast what form it might take.

Most commentators agree that, while the gilets jaunes brand still has legs, it is unlikely that whatever revolt may emerge in 2022 will be a simple repetition of the 2018 scenario, unfolding under the same banner. Much depends on how the denouement of the COVID-19 crisis plays out. But that is exactly what the political elite fears today. On Monday, France ended its third phase of lockdown in a year and will continue its policy of curfew into June. What may happen when the population is once again free to assemble and protest without restriction no one can guess today. The election period itself will be rife with confusion as the different personalities in the still identifiable parties begin to vie for influence.

Pouzadoux concludes her article with a quote attributed to Macron’s administration: “You must wait till the sea recedes to discover the disaster left on the beach.” Some may remember, thanks to recent experience, that the sea never recedes faster or further than at the approach of a tsunami.

Historical Note

Most people are aware that France’s Fifth Republic has outlived its life cycle and its historical logic. Someday soon, a Sixth Republic will emerge. 2022 is a year to watch. In purely electoral terms, it is bound to be messy. If the second-round presidential contest turns out to be a repeat of 2017, no matter who wins, there will be an increase in possibly uncontrollable eruptive emotion.

Neither Macron nor Le Pen has a solid political base, an absolute necessity for any semblance of political stability given the institutions of the Fifth Republic. Macron has managed to hold on this long simply because the presidential system dictates that the electorate has no choice other than revolt. But he has failed to establish his authority in the eyes of the populace. The French are unlikely to support another five years of the clever outlier who sneaks past the confused peloton to win the race. It’s the rules of the race that will be challenged. Should Le Pen win, the confusion would be greater since she has no hope of gaining the parliamentary majority a president needs to even begin governing.  

Everyone will remember 2020 as the year a pandemic upset the world order. Future historians may call 2021 a year of transitional hesitation for the entire clueless planet, as leaders attempt to redefine “the new normal” without the slightest idea of what a revised version of normality might look like. Will the two-year reign of terror by COVID-19 end before the start of 2022? France’s reign of terror in 1793 lasted only a year but spawned Napoleon and the eventual reconfiguration of Europe. It ushered in the Industrial Revolution led by a hyperaggressive British Empire that would triumph before being undone by internal European rivalries a century later.

While US President Joe Biden attempts to reaffirm his personal vision of empire as he boldly asserts that the US is “in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century,” the “other countries” of the world — starting with US’s ally in Asia, India — are wondering whether it makes sense to frame the challenge ahead as a competition between dominant powers seeking to control the global economy in their selfish interest. The Biden administration now appears poised to defend the sacrosanct intellectual property of pharmaceutical companies that has aggravated beyond description the COVID-19 crisis in India and the rest of the developing world.

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The race to dominance among Europe’s rival nations two centuries ago triggered an as yet unfinished series of global disasters. These include the deployment of nuclear weapons against civilian populations in Japan and now dire, uncontrollable threats to human health and social stability as a consequence of climate change, all of which can be attributed to our civilization’s obsession with competition.

One event worth watching in Europe this year, ahead of the French presidential election of 2022, is the state of play in Germany, where federal elections to elect the 20th Bundestag will take place in September. Recent polls show a potential lead for the Green party. If confirmed, this would overturn several decades of post-unification history. More significantly, as The Guardian’s Philip Oltermann reports in reference to the possibility of Annalena Baerbock’s party emerging as the leader of a new coalition, this eventual seismic event is attributable to the failure of imagination and vision of the traditional political elite.

“The underlying theme of her campaign so far,” Oltermann writes, “is that Germany is more innovative than its political class — a claim that got a boost last week when the country’s constitutional court ruled that the government’s climate targets do not go far enough.”

Addressing climate change requires a movement emerging from the people in a spirit of cooperation, not competition. Biden, Macron and Le Pen all represent the commitment to some form of aggressive nationalistic competition. Could eruptive emotion end up serving the cause of global harmony? The adepts of competition are not about to give up their battle.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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