I spend part of my summers in France, I have relatives and friends who live in France and I am a great admirer of France and (almost) all things French.
So it was with considerable interest and not a little trepidation that I followed the course of the first round of elections for the position of President of France. The vagaries of the French political system are something of a mystery to me, but it soon became clear that the unknown maverick, Emmanuel Macron, was a strong contender for the position. Several candidates representing a wide variety of political views were vying for election but only the top two would be able to go on to the next, and final, round.
The fact that Marine le Pen, the extreme right-wing candidate and daughter of the anti-Semitic founder of the National Front party, managed to attract a large number of supporters was very worrying. It was pretty certain that she would manage to get through to the second round, but the crucial question was: who would be standing against her? She claimed that she was not anti-Semitic, though she was definitely against immigration and, worse still, against the European Union. If she were to be elected and France was taken out of the EU that would spell the end of the Union and any number of complications would arise in consequence.
If the leader of the Republican Party, Francois Fillon, had got through to the second round that would have presented a dilemma for voters who tended to support the right wing. Fillon has been advocating views and policies that have not differed very greatly from those of Marine le Pen, and although his rhetoric was convincing his record was not very good. His misuse of public funds in order to pay his wife and children fat salaries for doing virtually nothing managed to reduce support for him, although the tide seemed to be turning in his favour just before the election.
Jean-Luc Melanchon, a socialist who was also against the European Union, had almost as much support, according to the polls, as Fillon. Here, too, if he had managed to get to the second round, probably to go head-to-head with Marine le Pen, the prospect of him winning would also be dismal. As the country went to vote it looked as if all four of the candidates mentioned had more or less similar chances of going to the next round. It was a time of great anxiety for anyone like myself who cares about Europe and is still reeling from the thought of England leaving the European Union.
As polling day drew near and the results predicted by the opinion polls seemed to indicate that anything could happen my nerves became increasingly frazzled. From posts put up on Facebook by expat British citizens living in France I could see that they were also extremely worried.
On the evening of election day, as I was watching the evening news on television, I was pleasantly surprised by the sight of M. Fillon giving his concession speech. That was the moment I had been waiting for! That meant that Emmanuel Macron was through to the second round, and would stand for the principles of the European Union and a sound economic policy that would bring France’s finances into a better state than they had been for the past ten years at least.
Now the run-off is between Macron and le Pen, but it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that the former will win as not many people who voted for any of the other candidates will contemplate voting for the extreme right. Macron claims to be neither left nor right, but centrist, and in favour of improving France’s economic situation. Let’s hope he can pull it off. I can’t vote, so all I can do is keep my fingers crossed and hope that reason will prevail in what purports to be the most reasonable of countries.