PARIS (AP) – A war spanning the eastern edge of the European Union, French voters will vote in a presidential election that will have international implications. France is the bloc’s second economy with 27 members, the only one with a veto by the UN Security Council and its only nuclear power. And as long as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues the war in Ukraine, French power will help shape Europe’s response.
Twelve candidates are running for the presidency, including incumbent and presidential favorite Emanuel Macron, who is running for a new term amid a challenge from the far right.
That’s why the important elections in France, which take place in two rounds, starting on Sunday:
The Russian war in Ukraine gave Macron a chance to demonstrate his influence in the international arena and to demonstrate his pro-NATO powers in the election debate. Macron is the only leader who supports the alliance, while other candidates hold different views on France’s role in it, including completely abandoning it. This development will deal a huge blow to the alliance created to protect its members during the Cold War, which arose 73 years ago.
Despite the fact that NATO announced the “death of the brain” in 2019, the war in Ukraine prompted Macron to try to give the alliance a new sense of purpose.
“Macron really wants to build a European foothold for NATO,” said Susie Denison, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “He used this for his shuttle diplomacy on the conflict in Ukraine.”
Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melanchon wants to leave NATO directly, saying it causes nothing but quarrels and instability. Skeptical President Melenchon may be of particular concern to Poland, which has a 1,160-kilometer border with territory now controlled by Russia.
Several other candidates want to see either a reduction in engagement with the alliance, or a complete withdrawal from the alliance. Although it is unlikely that France’s withdrawal from NATO will create a deep abyss with its allies and release the United States.
Observers say Macron’s re-election will mean a real likelihood of expanding cooperation and investment in European security and defense – especially with Germany’s new pro-European government.
Under Macron’s supervision, France’s defense spending has risen 7 billion euros ($ 7.6 billion) to boost it to 2% of gross domestic product, closely monitored by leaders including Putin. In his second term, Macron will almost certainly want to work out a joint European response to Ukraine and repel Russian threats.
The far-right Alliance?
These elections could change France’s post-war identity and show whether European populism is on the rise or in decline. At a time when populist Victor Orbán won Hungary’s fourth term as prime minister a few days ago, now the focus is on France’s resurgent far-right candidates – especially National Action leader Marine Le Pen, who wants to ban Muslim headscarves in the streets. as well as halal and kosher butchers. and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.
“If the far-right candidate wins, it could create an alliance or something in Europe,” said Denison of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “In recent days, Le Pen has been posting photos on Twitter in which she shakes Orban’s hand. It stands for a Europe of strong nation-states. ”
This axis could include Polish President Andrzej Duda, a right-wing populist and ally of Donald Trump. This alarmed observers.
“More than 30 percent of French voters now say they are going to vote for the far-right candidate. If Melanchon is included in the list of another extreme, anti-systemic candidate, this is almost half of the total population voting. This is unprecedented, ”Denison said.
The far-right candidate Eric Zemmour dominated the French airwaves with his conflicting views on Islam in France and immigration.
However, even the centrist Macron two years ago shook the feathers in Muslim countries, defending the right to publish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. It happened in honor of a teacher beheaded by a fundamentalist for showing his students cartoons as part of a free speech class.
A FRIEND OF AMERICA
The United States often advertises France as its oldest ally – and from Russian sanctions to climate change and the United Nations, Washington needs a reliable partner in Paris. France is an important transatlantic friend for America, not least because of its status as the only permanent member of the UN Security Council in continental Europe with a veto.
Despite fierce disputes between the United States and France last year over a multibillion-dollar submarine supply deal to Australia – which has humiliated France – President Joe Biden and Macron are now on solid terms.
“Macron is obviously the only candidate who has a history and authority in relations with the United States. Everyone else would start from scratch in a time of great geopolitical uncertainty, ”Denison said.
Unlike Macron, the Elysee Palace in the hands of Zemmour or Le Pen is likely to mean less concern about issues that the U.S. considers a priority, such as climate change. “They may not prefer the high economic costs of complying with the Paris Climate Agreement and the possibility of limiting global warming to 1.5%,” added Denison.
MIGRATION TO THE CONTINENTS
In light of the huge influx of migrants to Europe last year, France’s position on migration will continue to have a strong impact on countries on its periphery and beyond. This is especially due to its geographical location as a milestone in the travel of many migrants to the UK
A ship carrying migrants capsized in the English Channel last November, killing 27 people, leading to a dispute between France and Britain over who is responsible. The British accused France of not patrolling the coast well enough, but Macron said it was an impossible task. Observers see France as less open to migrants in the European context and see Macron’s relatively tough line on migration.
But Le Pen or Zemmour are likely to introduce tougher policies than Macron if they emerge victorious, such as cutting social benefits to non-French citizens and limiting the number of asylum seekers. Some candidates supported the construction of Trump-style border fences.
Follow the coverage of the French AP election at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022