Prof. Christopher Way discusses the results of the recent French election during the CIES Roundtable in PSB on Thursday. (Corinne Kenwood / Sun Staff Photographer).

April 27, 2017

Panel Discusses Role of Far-Right Populism, Fractured Left in French Elections

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Professors suggested at a panel on Thursday that the perceived surge in far-right populism across Europe is actually caused by a fracturing of center-left parties as the three panelists discussed the implications of the presidential election in France.

The panel, presented by the Cornell Institute for European Studies, took place days after centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen took first and second place, respectively, in the first round of voting. Macron and Le Pen will face off in the next round on May 7.

Prof. Christopher Way, government, argued that Le Pen’s success, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are not parts of a wave of broad support for right-wing populism, as they have been portrayed by many pundits.

In “all of the elections that have happened thus far … with one exception in the French election, the populist right has not done surprisingly well,” he said, citing recent elections in Austria, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Finland.

Way emphasized that it is actually center-left parties that are experiencing a declining trend.

“What’s much more notable, actually, than any surge for right-wing populists is the struggles and travails of the traditional left, which has played such a leading role in these European countries,” he said.

Prof. Robin Best, political science, Binghamton University, emphasized the anti-establishment tone of the French elections, particularly with the defeat of both the mainstream left and mainstream right candidates.

“You now have two non-establishment parties — parties that have not controlled government — … [where] one candidate or the other … is going to be the new French president,” she said. “Voters have completely rejected the French establishment.”

Prof. Mona Krewel, government, examined the top-five candidates’ support with various demographics and gave each candidate a “Trump factor” on a scale of one to 10 based on their similarities to Trump.

“I gave [Le Pen] eight Trumps not only for her campaign style, but also for her policies, because she has a very anti-immigrant stance,” Krewel said, “… and she has very protectionist economic policies.”

Prof. Mabel Berezin, sociology, said the election is taking place during an ongoing battle between globalism and nationalism.

“One of the things that the 2017 election actually highlights … is there has been much more of a crisis — not only in France, but in Europe,” between those who benefit from the European Union and those who benefit from “the world of nationalism,” she said.

Regardless of who is elected on May 7, Way noted, there will likely be gridlock between the president and the National Assembly after the legislative elections this June.

“We’re probably going to get a period of relative inaction, ineffective change [and] ineffective policy, and that’s likely to benefit in the next presidential election five years from now only one person,” he said, referring to Le Pen.