Interview with French expert: There is a danger that Le Pen will win

Today in France held the first round of presidential elections. Even sociologists and experts do not undertake to say with confidence who will take place in the second round, which will take place on 7 may. More than a quarter of the French still undecided with the choice, and this means that the results can be very unpredictable. Yesterday the voting began in the French overseas territories. Already voted about 5 thousand residents of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon in the North Atlantic and French Guiana.

The attack, which happened on the evening of 20 April in Paris on the eve of the first round of the presidential election, of course, affected the course of the campaign. We will remind that previously convicted Karim Sheriff from the machine gun fired at a police patrol and a bus on the Champs Elysees. One of the officers killed, two injured. Responsibility for the attack claimed by the group “Islamic state”. After the attack, without exception, all the candidates talked about improving security and confronting terrorist threats. And yesterday, Paris embraced the protests. On the streets the representatives of trade unions, associations of anarchists and public organizations. They smashed shop Windows, threw smoke bombs, calling to boycott the presidential elections and to solve social problems, which, in their opinion, France have accumulated a lot.

Polls show the three candidates with nearly identical ratings. In the second round have a chance to go through the representative of the liberal centrist Emmanuel macron (independent candidate movement “Forward”), extremely right-wing marine Le Pen (national front) and the right-wing former Prime Minister françois Fillon (“Republicans”). The current President, socialist françois Hollande did not even nominate a candidate, as the level of support among the French non-existent.

Candidates for the French presidency. AFP photo

The of centrist Emmanuel Macron, according to recent opinion polls, the highest ratings is about 22-23%. He has all chances to become the youngest ever President of France. But, experts say, his age (39 years) – his weak spot, which could play a trick on him. Many voters don’t like young like candidate age Makron. But I guess that’s the only drawback. In France he is known as a progressive reformer, he was actively engaged in the promotion of start-UPS in the sphere of high technologies. It is not exactly linked to the Kremlin, has repeatedly declared its support for Ukraine, calling Russia the aggressor. And Pro-Kremlin media called Him a US agent and a latent homosexual.

Pro-Russian Le Pen (20-21%), in case of victory promises to close the borders against migrants and to initiate a referendum on withdrawal of France from the EU and NATO, and the Crimea was called originally Russian territory. A frequent guest in the Kremlin, just a month ago, flew for talks with Vladimir Putin, and, as already I wrote “Today” on the eve of regional elections in France in 2015, took credit for the campaign in one of the Russian banks.

Francois Fillon (19%) is also considered Pro-Russian candidate. As Prime Minister in the mid-2000s promised a Lebanese businessman to organize a meeting with Putin, for which he received 50 thousand euros. A couple of months ago it instead of the Macron, called the favorite of the election race. But the corruption scandal has tarnished his reputation. Prosecutors accused Fillon of fictitious employment in the civil service of his wife. According to experts, the scandal has lowered its ratings, but not as much as would have liked his opponents.

While sociologists do not undertake to predict who will win, the website “Today” together with the President of the French Center for the study of political action (CERAP) Nicolas Tenteram discussed the chances of the candidates, particularly their domestic and foreign policies in the event of coming to power, and when the favorites with the Kremlin.

Nicolas Tenzer. Photo

– Today in France held the first round of presidential elections. How do you assess the chances of the candidates?

Actually the results are rather unpredictable, as for the first and for the second round. The two favorites are Emmanuel macron with 23-25% support and marine Le Pen with 22-23% (according to recent opinion polls – Ed.). Followed by françois Fillon with 19-20% and Jean-Luc Mélenchon from 18-19%. But as you can see, the gap is about 3%, so anything can happen.

The second round will be two opponents, so the outcome can be very different: If the Makron will come in the second round he probably wins every other candidate (if it comes out in the second round with Le Pen, you can get about 60-65% support). If the second round will be Le Pen, Fillon or Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Jean-Luc Mélenchon, President of the Left party – Ed.) I would not bet.

You know that Russia is interfering in the elections in France, spreading a lot of “fake” news, aiming mainly at the Emmanuel Macron, spreading slander. In addition, a third of voters still undecided with the choice. We don’t know how they will vote. It’s unclear whether the vote over Rules the majority of the supporters of the Socialist or the Conservative Republican party. Of course, there is a danger of the National front, marine Le Pen. At the same time, a majority of French support in Europe, so we can see the mobilization against Le Pen, but not all voters are conservative and rational. The conservative party and conservative voters are becoming more and more right. The difference between the far-right Le Pen and the so-called Republican right-wing is not that big. Some conservative leaders have taken far-right positions. This is a real danger. We also see the emergence of the radical left Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Some of his radical voters can say: “Between conservative Rules and Le Pen there is a big difference, we are irrelevant to these elections and want to destroy the political and social “capitalist” system.” If that happens, it will be a great harm and Le Pen can win. Of course, I did not predict. But I think we should consider that anything can happen.

You’re right, because after Brexit and the results of the US presidential election to predict something simply impossible. But if we are talking about Le Pen, she was in Moscow, received a loan in one of the Russian banks. The French understand that it Pro-Russian candidate?

Unfortunately, the majority of French voters do not pay much attention to international politics. They don’t know about the threats. Besides, some of them, unfortunately, is not susceptible to scandals and corruption. The only thing that can really change the mood of the voters, to demonstrate that Le Pen will cause damage to the quality of life that this will affect most people. It can even bring more harm to ordinary workers and poor people. That’s what we’re trying to demonstrate, since these arguments are more powerful than context, Le Pen, Mélenchon Fillon and Putin. But, the results of Brexit and the US presidential elections we see that voters do not always behave rationally and do not take into account rational arguments. Therefore, even if the other candidates, especially Emmanuel macron and socialist Benoit Hamon condemned the favor of Le Pen and Putin, I’m not sure that this argument will reach the General public.

Francois Fillon. AFP photo

– You said that many voters do not pay attention to scandals and corruption. But we know that just after a corruption scandal Fillon ratings dipped significantly.

Before the scandal it is likely that the second round would be Fillon and Le Pen. Without the corruption scandal of the Makron would be extremely difficult to reach the second round. After the scandal the chances of Fillon reduced, but they are not as low as predicted and expected his rivals. That’s why I said not many people pay attention to corruption and many right-wing voters will prefer propranolo candidate, even if he was involved in the scandals. Back to the primaries. If a moderate conservative Alain Juppe and socialist Manuel Valls (now supports Macron – Ed.) won the primary, Macron, probably would not be enough space on the electoral field. But with the socialist party becomes more left, and the conservative party, which is becoming more right for Macron opens more possibilities. But, again, the results are difficult to predict, as some people are not used to value candidates claiming to be neither left nor right.

– Will there be any changes in the internal and foreign policy of France if they beat the Makron? Or if you suddenly win Le Pen?

If Le Pen wins, everything will turn around and will be a disaster for Europe and the free world. France will be surrounded with a cordon. But, it also depends on the results of the parliamentary elections, which will take a month and a half after the presidential. Even if she wins, Parliament will still be opposed (“National front,” Le Pen – Ed.). We have a lot of scenarios about this, but it is also unpredictable. In principle, you know that Le Pen is close to Putin and fully shares his views on Ukraine, Middle East and “values”… She wants France out of the EU and the Eurozone, it wants to conduct a very protectionist policy. If she wins, it will lead to the collapse of France, the desperation of the majority of the French, the fall of European values and ideals, and by opening doors to the domination of Moscow in Europe.

Le Pen. AFP photo

If the Makron will win back hope to Europe. He clearly stated that the “value” of Putin incompatible with European and French values, and no compromise can not be. He strongly condemned, for example, a concentration camp for gays Kadyrov in Chechnya. In his (Macron – Ed.) the program clearly States that Putin is undermining Europe and is a real threat to security and world order. Macron also said that any easing of sanctions will not be until will not be fully implemented, especially Russia, the Minsk agreement. He also condemned the actions of the Assad regime, with the support of Russia and Iran in Syria: war and crimes against humanity. That is why the macron called Putin a serious threat and told about the desire of Russia to dominate Europe. And last, he said he is committed to the respect of human rights, the protection of dissidents and persecuted minorities. So when it comes to foreign policy, the Makron will continue the policy of Hollande in a positive way. The positive side is that Makron is more Pro-European. Though he is not perceived by Europe as Hollande, but more determined to move forward. It will better protect the security and values of Europe. He also wants to restart Franco-German collaboration. From this point of view, the macron – liberal Pro-European candidate. He also stated that they are determined to resist protectionist views of trump and his pressure. (Tramp – Ed.) contempt for Europe in some way alarming to Europeans. Macron will also seek to increase France’s defense budget to 2% of GDP as decided at the NATO summit in Wales. He said that we need to protect NATO and France is a very important organization. He also plans to promote a stronger and more independent security policy and defense in Europe.

Makron with his wife. AFP photo

– What about internal policy of the Makron? Will we see a significant difference with Hollande if the Makron will win?

– In foreign policy, we will not see much difference, except for the fact that Macron many new initiatives. The main problem of Hollande why he has such low ratings can be explained by the fact that he was going to do macron. First of all, in the beginning of his presidency, Hollande is sharply raised taxes. Many people, including middle and slightly below middle class, I mean not very rich people, and the bourgeoisie suffered. Tax increases pushed some people to take loans from banks to pay for taxes. This greatly undermined his support among voters. Then he came up with the idea that it should be a perfect President and to lead by example. Then followed a series of scandals involving some Ministers: economy jérôme Cahuzac, the Secretary of state for foreign trade Volume, the Thevenin internal Affairs Bruno Le Roux. Thirdly, released the book authored by journalists, mentioning some insulting statements by Hollande to address certain categories of people, including judges. And last but not least: in his government most of the Ministers were from the Socialist party, there were other colleagues, but their reputation leaves much to be desired. With the exception of defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, interior Minister, Prime Minister Bernard Kazneva and several others – were not prominent personalities. Hollande was barely able to keep balance within his own party, and the government is unlikely to be open to what we call “civil society”. Consequently, the image of the government in society was low and within the government among the Ministers there were many conflicts. Some Ministers openly disagreed and resigned, including the socialist candidate, Benoit Amon. Also was very unpopular bills, for example, the project on deprivation of citizenship (for terrorism – Ed.) or employment law (amendments allowed, for example, increase the number of working hours and simplified procedures of dismissal of workers – Ed.). The vision of the political leadership, which promoted Hollande, with the exception of a very good foreign policy, not perceived by the public.

And the contrast you have a good way of Emmanuel Macron, even if it is not as popular on the left side of the political spectrum. The Makron also managed to strengthen its position thanks to the results of primaries in which moderate Waltz and Juppe lost. In principle, the Makron will not follow the policy of Hollande: he will be more active in promoting reforms to reduce the gap of competitiveness with Germany. He has a more interesting vision of education reform, which has become one of the main failures of Hollande: he will be able to implement best practices and meritocracy, which the education Minister Hollande threatened. Moreover, the Makron will not be held hostage to the Socialist party, and this is very important.

– Macron promised to lower taxes?

– Of course, he said that taxes are too high and should be reduced. He also promised to reduce what we in France call “social taxes” – pension, medical insurance – but in a manner that did not threaten the General welfare. These taxes are very high, as increased as Hollande and Sarkozy. For example, if I earn 1000 Euro, you have to pay about 550 Euro “social taxes”, plus about 150 euros of income tax. Remains 300 euros, very little.

– Tax deductions “eat” more than half the wages…

Yes. If I’m the employer, you have to pay 1400 Euro to my worker got 800 euros. After deduction of income tax he/she will need, depending on total income, to pay 0-300 euros in taxes on annual income. Of course, we have a good pension and health insurance. We enjoy good roads, schools, infrastructure and many other services. But for people today’s level of taxation is very high. Macron says that we have over-regulated system that prevents the creation and development of businesses, jobs, self-employed people since it is quite costly to dismiss if there is a downturn in the market or they were incompetent. Companies have to pay huge compensation unhappy employees, since they can sue. This is one of the main reasons for the high unemployment rate. First of all, this is a huge problem for small and medium business, which is unable to cope with such a number of rules, taxes and costs.

– Will there be any changes in the relationship of official Paris and Washington after the elections in France?

– On the basis of what is said macron, France will be “independent” from both Russia and the United States. Especially under the presidency of trump, Makron strongly condemned trump’s trade policy and its protectionist views too. We also know that the trump has not yet developed a road map. The advisers in his Office have different views on what to do with Russia, the Middle East…

Yes, the delay in the formation of the foreign policy agenda of the US too long…

Yes. We see and hear what they say the Minister of defence James Mattis, the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Secretary Rex Tillerson. But their statements go against the line of Donald trump and his adviser Steve Bannon, which they recently did. The Assad regime use of chemical weapons in Syria would change something. So you need to wait. But if the Makron will win, he will have to discuss with trump all these issues.

– There were rumors that while in France’s presidential election, a visa-free regime for Ukraine not to be seen…

– Before the elections, the majority of the most sensitive decisions are frozen. It is a tradition in France, not only in this government, not to make important decisions during the election period. The next government will have the full responsibility and we just need to wait and see what it will do. So I think you don’t need to worry if the elections are held normally, is only a matter of time. If not, of course, Ukraine will not be easy.

– France – member of the “Normandy format” negotiations. But the Minsk process seems to put on pause due to elections in France and Germany. Putin is waiting for results?

– Yes, because everything can change dramatically. When it comes to France, do we know if Le Pen, Fillon or Jean-Luc Mélenchon will be elected, it will be an immediate signal the easing of sanctions, and they will achieve this. Fillon and Le Pen is close to Putin, Mélenchon uses Russian propaganda. Therefore, the Minsk agreement will be absolutely meaningless – it will be the end of the Minsk agreements. Whatever our assessment of the Minsk agreements, it will be the end of any concern about the future of Ukraine. If you choose Makron, Russia should fulfill the Minsk agreement. We all know that Russia in overwhelming majority of cases responsible for the failure of the Minsk agreements. The macron is often said that the Minsk agreement must be implemented. Otherwise, sanctions will continue to apply. This is a very strong and clear position. Even if we have criticized the Minsk agreements and said that they failed for many reasons, we can’t replace. Today it is better to have the Minsk than nothing. When it comes to Germany, the line of Merkel in relation to Russia is very hard. But some leaders of the Social democratic party of Germany, in particular, Sigmar Gabriel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier looks peaceful (aggressor – Ed.). Martin Schulz (candidate of the SDP for the post of Chancellor – Ed.) probably in between, Gerhard Schroeder can also play secretly.

– But I thought that Gerhard Schroeder is already past German policy…

– Gerhard schröder still has a big impact. Therefore, it would be better if Merkel was re-elected again. It will be another signal to maintain Germany’s strong position in Minsk and the policy of sanctions.

– In Ukraine, saying that Germany – the leader of the “Normandy format”…

Maybe, but if you elect the Macron, will be two leaders – Germany and France.

– Will there be any changes in the “channel format” after the elections in France and Germany? Perhaps the US wants to join?

– All this is quite unpredictable. This will mean that we will have to change everything. The problem is that we have the “Norman format”, which involves four countries. And we can only assume that the US and perhaps some other countries, such as Poland, might want to join. I’m not sure that would be wise. It would be useful to have different channels of pressure and negotiations. But if we do not show a strong determination not only in words, to resolve the situation in Ukraine, including the Crimea, Russia will be against it will have a free hand to independently set the agenda.

Title photo AFP