April 27, 2017 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads – In France, Globalism Is on the Ballot

The stage is now set in France for one of the most consequential presidential elections in recent history. On May 7, the unabashed globalist, Emmanuel Macron, will face off against the quintessential nationalist, Marine Le Pen. The future of the European Union—and much else—hinges on the outcome.

A victory for the far-right Le Pen would be a profound blow to globalism. It would strengthen nationalist forces in Europe and likely call into question not only the Eurozone but the entire European project. The consequences for the global economy could be severe. The IMF’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, predicted Le Pen’s promises to exit the Euro and the European Union “would certainly entail major disorder,” according to reporting from the Financial Times.

Le Pen faces long odds, to be sure. Most polls show Macron leading by some 20 points. But as we’ve learned from Brexit and the US election, unlikely is not impossible. And Le Pen has some important trends working in her favor. Most important is the widespread backlash against globalism. There has been growing frustration in France with immigration—particularly Muslim immigration—but also towards international institutions such as the European Union. French anxiety over terrorism may also benefit Le Pen, who has focused much of her campaign rhetoric on security concerns and the threats from jihadist extremism.

A victory for Macron, on the other hand, would give renewed energy to the liberal world order, of which Macron is a strong proponent. It would strengthen the Franco-German motor of the European Union, as well as Berlin’s desire to build a strong EU-27 (without Britain). This would be especially important now that there are serious doubts in Europe about the strength of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Again, current surveys show Macron with a comfortable lead over Le Pen. This is due in part because France’s established parties and left and center-right wing voters are rallying around him, given their common cause of shutting out Le Pen. But still, Macron’s victory is hardly inevitable. He is widely viewed as the candidate of the elite and as a political novice. In the current populist climate, these perceptions may be especially challenging.

It is difficult to exaggerate the high stakes in this contest. The election has the potential to profoundly reshape French politics, the European Union, NATO, trans-Atlantic relations, and more. This Week’s Reads examine the dynamics of the French election and some of the global issues with which the candidates are grappling.

France's Turmoil Makes Brexit Seem Tame

Sebastian Mallaby/The Washington Post

Brexit is not the only indicator of the fragility of European politics. Detailing the dire situation of France’s upcoming presidential election, Sebastian Mallaby gives a quick and dirty rundown of the candidates and their various, controversial stances. Bemoaning the rise of anti-globalism, Mallaby cites the painful 25 percent unemployment rate among France’s youth as a primary cause for the increase in traction among radical, separatist economic plans. While seemingly antithetical to the rise of Britain’s older voting bloc against a changing world, the political climates in the two countries reflect a shared distaste for three things: elites, economic stagnation, and foreigners.

France’s Choice: Le Divorce?

Christopher Caldwell/The Wall Street Journal 

In the wake of Brexit, the loss of another key country has the potential to collapse the European Union. France’s upcoming election may be the critical point which decides the fate of Europe as a whole. With candidate Marine Le Pen vocally supporting a “Frexit,” those opposing the destruction of the Union have rallied behind front-runner Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker. In a move that harkens back to the United States’ most recent election cycle, voting for Macron is being painted as a moral imperative against an image of Le Pen as the “second coming of Hitler.”

France Faces National Fight Over Global Order

Anne-Sylvaine Chassany/Financial Times

The race for France’s presidency has narrowed to a race between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. While Mr. Macron has a less-than-sure lead in the first round of voting, Ms. Le Pen lacks voters who will support her as their second choice. Though it remains to be seen what France will look like under either candidate’s administration, the race between them is a clear signal of the decline of France’s classical political elite. Regardless of the outcome, “a page of France’s political history has been turned.”

France's Election Reveals a New Political Divide

Anne Applebaum/The Washington Post  

The outcome of the first stage of France’s presidential election has solidified a departure from politics as usual in both candidates. In contrast to a classical conflict between proponents of bigger and smaller government, the French have become divided on the issue of what it means to be French. While Emmanuel Macron is highly favored to win, the National Front’s isolation-centered opposition and the feelings that have fostered it will not disappear with his election. To succeed in uniting France, Macron must take ownership of terms like “patriot,” creating a new French patriotism which will better serve his ideology. 

Global Economy: Spring Breaks Through the Political Storm

Shawn Donnan, Gemma Tetlow, and Sam Fleming/Financial Times

Despite the apocalyptic rhetoric surrounding the wave of populism that has swept over the west, the world economy continues to chug along, slowly but positively. A meeting of the International Monetary Fund resulted in generally optimistic predictions for the future. There is still some concern over whether populist politicians, both in the US and abroad, will be able to seriously injure the economy with short-sighted, protectionist policies. Despite this, experts remain optimistic that any given country’s current crises’ will have a negligible effect on the world economy as a whole.

The Risks of the Trump Administration Hollowing out American Leadership

William J. Burns/Washington Post

President Trump’s policies have gradually proven to be fairly conventional, and many who were frightened by the radical change he previously espoused have been breathing sighs of relief. William J. Burns sees a deeper threat from the Trump administration, however. Beneath the actions of the administration, Burns observes a continued erosion of the American spirit. Discarding American ideals in favor of protectionism while weakening American institutions through “draconian reductions” still provides plenty of cause to be worried. When combined with a flagrant disregard for the international community, trouble may still be on the horizon.

Do US Strikes Send a ‘Message’ to Rivals? There’s No Evidence

Max Fisher/The New York Times

Much has been said about President Trump’s recent strikes in the Middle East and the message they send to America’s enemies abroad. It remains unclear, however, what exactly that message is, or whether it was actually received at all. Max Fisher reports a dearth of evidence in political science that military action in one part of the world affects adversaries in another, and there is no clear sign that the strikes have intimidated or even effected North Korea or Russia’s long term strategic planning. With Americans continuing to debate what President Trump’s military actions actually means in regards to his foreign policy, it is unsurprising that Pyongyang and Moscow would be similarly confused.

Syria Changed the World

Anne Barnard/The New York Times

For seven years, the Syrian civil war has continued as one of the most brutal, most inhumane conflicts in recent human history. While the situation continues to worsen for Syrian civilians who remain within the country, it has also negatively impacted the world at large. The sharp increase of refugees entering Europe has given rise to a number authoritarian ideologies of isolationism and populism. The lack of international intervention in Syria has not only cost countless lives, but has also dealt a serious blow to the credibility of organizations such as the United Nations and NATO in punishing flagrant war crimes and human rights violations.

Mexico's Revenge

Franklin Foer/The Atlantic

Even before President Trump was considered a serious candidate in the election, his incendiary comments about Mexico garnered attention. His promise to build a wall on the border has become an iconic image of his presidency. This, understandably, has not made him popular among Mexicans. Collaboration with Trump has proven to be politically disastrous for Mexico’s current president, ensuring that most future candidates are decidedly more hostile. The dangers of this are obvious: despite President Trump's claims to the contrary, Mexico’s economic and security ties to America are strong. Weakening those ties is an admittedly drastic option for Mexico, one that could prove extremely painful for the United States.

America and China's Strategic Relationship

The Economist

After almost a century of turmoil, China has enjoyed an increasingly central place on the world stage for the past several decades. This growth has occurred in a political landscape in which the United States has remained the sole consistent superpower. Now, with relations between the international community and the United States in flux, it is becoming more important than ever to understand and resolve the conflicts between China and America. Breaking down historical political and economic disputes between the two countries, this article provides a quick crash course in Chinese-American relations and how we can expect them to develop.

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