Part 2: La Belle France—don't fear the FN, but Jupiter

Lungt Sverige, La Belle France, Made (drin) in Germany, and Gehst schaißen, Austria! Why it doesn't matter who votes for "right-wing" populists in the four countries that made me European. Part 2: France

For Germanic tribes (and later the various Germans), France has always been a magnet. That’s why it is called ‘France’, Frankreich in German, the reign of the Franks. One of the Germanic gather-up-tribes migrating west and working for the Romans to fend off other Germanic tribes (so much for national feelings). My native dialect is Ostmoselfränkisch, literally the ‘eastern Franconian of the Mosel Valley’ (fun-fact: the modern-day Franconia is a good deal further east from us; Germans are so volatile). Its sister language is Westmoselfränkisch or Luxemburgish, one of the official languages of the Grand-Duchy of Luxemburg, the EU’s Delaware (both featured on
[Side note: Luxemburg is also the richest and one of the smallest countries in Europe, pro-EU since the start (for self-preserving reasons), home of the current head of the EU commission, banks, and all dark-greyish money that – for whatever reason – did not manage to migrate to Switzerland (not an EU member) or one of Her Majesty’s oversea dominions/possessions like the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and the Virgin Islands; also not part of the EU but of the UK, and the reason why Brexit was a blow to one of the City’s most lucrative business models: moving – legally – EU profits and private wealth out of the EU to save taxes. Luxemburg is also the place where many neighbouring Germans (social and technical sector), French (admins mostly) and Walloons (varied) earn their money. Hard work is left traditionally to Portuguese.]

A few things France and Sweden have in common

In most Medieval and post-Medieval wars, the Kingdom of Sweden sided with France, no matter whether the latter was ruled by a king by God’s grace, and Emperor of his own grace, or an elected government. Among their enemies were typically Germans, while other Germans not rarely backed them up (so much for national feelings, no. 2). The current ruling Swedish dynasty, the Bernadottes, goes back to one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s marshals, a commoner. In the 18th and 19th century, it became a fashion in Swedish bourgeoisie to apprehend a French-sounding name or at least an accent aigu (Swedish: akut accent). Like Carl von Linné, the father of taxonomy. Or Åhléns. France matches Sweden regarding worker’s rights and the preference for early child care, although there are many differences in detail. Two examples:
In France and Sweden, many women work and have kids (two). In France, you can stay three months at home after birth, then you give your baby to a nounou, a day-care-mother (quality of care depends on what you can pay for it). In Sweden, you bring it into the world leave it – quite directly and like many other things – to the state, who hires pedagogically trained pros already for the (free-of-charge) kindergartens (naturally differs between cities and sparse populated countyside, frequently found in France and Sweden).
In France, we have per law a 35-hour work week (it can be more in reality, and you are compensated by extra holidays, the RTT, see e.g. here). In Sweden it is 40 hours, but everyone can reduce upon request and when affordable. Sweden is generally more expensive than France for living, but a beer in a bar or restaurant is about the same price. Accordingly, Swedish salaries are much higher than French for the same job; particularly, when you are a woman (Equal Pay Day in France is end of March, one and a half month later than in Sweden). Both countries are notorious in sticking to an max. 8-hour working day (working over-time is normal in Germany, a privilege in France, and nearly a crime in Sweden). You have 35 holidays (when older than 40) in Sweden compared to 28 in France (+1–2 RTT per month, when working the same time). And Sweden has some nice add-ons like:
  • Klämdagar, when a state holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, you don’t need to go to work on the Monday or Friday; in France, you need to take a holiday/RTT (which may be obligatory);
  • Pappa-/mammaledig [SV/DE/FR] (no English page I’m afraid, it's probably too alien of a concept), an extra 90 days of holidays for each parent and kid, that can be used up until the little one is three.
And when it comes to politics and parliaments, Sweden and France are nigh-on different.

The Assemblée nationale, designed to follow the president

It is important to know that the parliamentary system of the fifth French republic has been designed to suit an elected absolute monarch, namely general Charles de Gaulle [Brittanica/Wikipedia]. De Gaulle, like Napoleon before him, knew what is best for France, hence, only came back as president in the last colonial days of post-war French peril under the condition that the parliament would give away as much power as possible. The fifth republic was born. This worked for some time, but the French electorate decided later it may be a good idea to have an opposing majority in the parliament to annoy his excellency, Monsieur le Président (called cohabitation – living together). To get rid of this unwanted situation, it was decided that presidential and national parliament elections should be synchronised: first you vote for the president, shortly after, you provide him with a parliamentary majority, so he may reign undisturbed. And the French did. In the presidential head-up 2nd round they could choose between the ENArchist Macron, aka Jupiter, an anti-Trump (he run a thoroughly positive and pro-European campaign) “independent” and “social-liberal” candidate (some links: BBC, FPT, Guardian, Quora, Wikipedia), and France’s – much more original and believable, I might add – version of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen (BBC, Guardian, Wikipedia), chef of the Front National (FN; [Wikipedia/Homepage]), a Frexit sympathiser. Naturally, Macron, a president most of the electorate hasn’t and still doesn’t like (like The Donald), won; maybe because the French electorate did learn a lesson from The Donald’s accidental election (make your choice, even between Skylla and Charybdis, or face the what-have-I-not-done-effect [LWT/FF]), but also because you (still) never vote for the FN candidate (pas chic), or for a woman. And few months later, they provided him (although reluctantly) with a parliamentary majority, but Marine's FN? Gone.

The position of the main candidates that competed in the 2017 French presidential election according to The Political Compass ( Some (in)famous people added for orientation (grey dots). In brackets the parties that supported the candidate (the UDI and part of PS-MPs now support Macron)

How to keep the ultra-right out of the light

Much like the Sverigedemokraterner (SD) in Sweden and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), the FN was founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s daddy (and now fierce enemy), as a receptacle for those who dreamed of having a free Autobahn everywhere (next year we’ll pay 2% more for using the autoroutes) and feeling superior to ‘lesser races’. But in France, the election system prevents that the FN gets a proper representation in the parliament (or the president’s chair). Despite Marine having succeeded in de-‘demonising’ her FN, much like its Swedish (SD, part 1) and Austrian (FPÖ; see part 4 of this post-series) contemporaries.

Info to Anglosaxons: the French system is in principle like your favourite one-vote-more-wins-the-post (hence, your severely distorted parliaments). Only, it is more elaborate (after all, it’s the French, everything is more elaborate). The French version is a who-qualifies-for-the-second-round-and-then-has-the-most-votes-gets-the-post system.
Info to people living in democracies with representative parliaments: this is how Anglosaxon democracies work (pretty much)

Traditionally, a sort of pacte républicaine kept the FN out of the Assemblée: in case three candidates (‘right’, ‘left’, FN) qualified for the second round, a situation called triangulaire, a beautifully sounding French word for an unwanted thing (see also this post), the candidate of the ‘left’ or ‘right’ would retreat, whoever had less votes in the first round, and encourage their voters to note vote for the FN-guy (usually a guy back then, men do make worse political decisions than women) but the other one.

Graphic showing the traditional (pre-2013) French voting system. Three candidates, Sociale Lerouge, Benoit de Noir and Francois France qualified for the second round (triangulaire), but to prevent Francois from winning Benoit retreats and tells his voters to vote for Sociale. In the 2017 elections, there was only one triangulaire (and all three competed in the second round), because votes were so scattered that only two candidates (typically the president's candidate and another one from the very left to extreme right) managed to get the necessary 12.5% (regarding total number of registered voters) in the first round.

Sarc(oz)y ended this bargain, lost, and the FN secured two MPs (out of 577) in the resulting triangulaires. And this year the “Left”, destroyed by Hollande’s not-present presidency, and “Right” played little role, and continue to disintegrate. Just these days, Les Constructives, a Jovial parliamentary group comprising part of the technically oppositional “parliamentary right” (pre-election including the LR: Les Republicaines [Wikipedia/Homepage], UDI: Union independiste et democrate [Wikipedia/Homepage], Divers droite, DVD) officially founded their own party: Agir (engl.: Acting). Will be fun to see how this works out in the next general elections; the French system is prepared, in case none or only one qualifies in the first round, the threshold goes down to guarantee a choice between two (at least) candidates in the second round.

And the FN managed to get an amazing number of eight seats (1.4% of all seats).

The recently elected French parliament. Classification is generalised for orientation (see also links at the end of the post). The hypothetical fully proportional parliament is based on the results of the first round. Parliamentary Left: PS = Parti socialiste [wikipedia/homepage], PRG = Parti radical de gauche [wp/hp], DVG = Divers gauche. Jupiter's centre: MoDem = Movement Démocratique [wp/hp], REM. Parliamentary right: UDI, LR, DVD. Others: EXG = far-left; PCF = Parti communiste française [wp/hp], FI = France insoumise [wp/hp], ECO = ecologists, REG = regionalists, DIV = others, DLF = Debout la France [wp/hp], EXD = far-right.

Even under the most favourable conditions – the Left divided and partially conquered by the Jovial “civic movement” La République en Marche [Wikipedia/Homepage], the Right licking the wounds of a disastrous presidential campaign (with a candidate tumbling over hiring his wife and kids on tax-payers money for doing nothing; something the Canard enchainé, a print-only satiric-investigative- politic weekly French magazine, made public) – the FN remains politically insignificant. Unless the FN candidates get a (near) absolute majority in the first round in most of the constituencies, Marine (or whatever Le Pen will come after her) can bark but not bite. So, the soup will have to boil under the lid, and the FN voter can be as sure as his Swedish and German counterpart, the AfD voter, that his (again, mostly males) decision has no consequences (Macron will not be stupid enough to repeat Cameron’s error leaving it to a plebiscite and actual fake news such as the Leave-campaign’s 350-Pound-Lie to decide on EU membership). And creeping into more mayor's offices and city councils. And the remaining (French) Republicans may even more tempted to try to jump the Marine-blue train, with the centre being occupied by Jupiter's friendly neoliberals.

The future will be so liberating, doing business as usual

Having prevented the worst (i.e. a female and frontiste as president), Jupiter Macron can rely on an obedient parliament majority, a claque. His REM just demonstrated their dedication to bottom-up democracy by electing Jupiter’s only candidate for leading them; and have given the Canard already a lot to comment regarding their supposedly “new style” in politics (avoid discussion, in particular in public, just applaud Jupiter and vote-yes-on-demand). Hence, it’s likely, Jupiter is going to deform one of the few larger states in Europe that – from a social perspective – comes close to Sweden (or Austria). Now that I could start living like Gott in Frankreich (‘God in France’, old German saying), a trained admin elected to be king is determined to change this. Merci bien!
Maybe we should better call him and his civic movement ‘social-liberating’ rather than ‘social-liberal’, because he’s set to liberate us from long-established social benefits to make France competitive again. Notably, about one decade later than his ‘social-liberal’ British (Blair) or German counterparts (Schröder). Consequences: bank bailouts, Brexit, struggling EU, anti-social populism, increased social inequality, and Germany's answer to The Donald and general U.S. Republican insanity, the AfD (see next part 3 of this post-series), getting in one parliament after the other. Thus, it’s a good bet that Macron’s reforms (the motto is: make France great again! Rings a bell?) will nourish the FN further. But France problems lie much deeper than having a 35-hour work week and a minimum salary (called SMIC) of 9.76 € (highest in Europe). For instance, an outdated general education system forcing people into private schools (or at least move to the right town/suburb). Spreading ENArchism, best reflected in Macron’s rise to power and his team (both the PS and LR are full of them, even the FN). A pretty inefficient administration outsourcing essential services (close to half a year, we applied for my social insurance number; I need a new one, the forth, so much for European Union). Lack of internationality, I read somewhere a while ago that five dozen Francophones control/connect all big French companies. Yes, you can work in France as a foreigner, but to get ahead, you need to be perfect in the use of the French language (which is very tricky), so it’s mainly an option for well-educated Walloons and francophone Swiss (already can be hard for Quebecois). Being male helps, too. Like the fresh-modern president demonstrated: the most female French cabinet ever, but all the important posts are filled with men.

Truly we face a time of change, the French way. And I'll be directly affected, and not even be able to vote my own hole (to do so, I'll need the French nationality).

Some links

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