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French presidency poll: Francois Fillon the conservative candidate

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap] oon after the successful presidency poll in USA, now its NATO ally and a European country with Socialist background France is on its way to elect its next president. France is going through the electoral process with what is known as the primacy for choosing the party candidates for the presidency.

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon has won the primary in next year’s French presidential election after his rival Alain Juppe admitted defeat. In most countries the primary is not necessary as each party chooses directly its candidate for the poll fight.

With virtually all the results counted, Fillon won Sunday’s run-off (primary) with nearly 67% of the vote. Alain Juppe, the more moderate candidate, congratulated Fillon on his “large victory” and pledged to support him in his bid to become president. Juppe appeared in front of his own, determined supporters, to concede the contest. He gave a small smile to the crowds chanting his name and told them he was ending the contest as he began it: “A free man, who didn’t betray who he was or what he thought.” Juppe, also a former prime minister and regarded as more moderate, had initially been seen as the favourite to win the race, but struggled against Fillon’s strong performances in the primary debates.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron, the 38-year-old former economy minister and protege of Hollande, has already announced plans to stand in the presidential election as a centrist independent. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that he would not rule out running against Hollande in the primary, telling the Journal du Dimanche he wanted to dispel the idea “that the left has no chance” of retaining power.

A former prime minister under Sarkozy, the 62-year-old is a Catholic who is seen as a traditionalist on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Fillon had been widely expected to win the race, after securing 44% of the vote in the first round a week ago that saw former President Nicolas Sarkozy knocked out. He is proposing dramatic economic reforms that include slashing 500,000 public jobs, ending the 35-hour week, raising the retirement age and scrapping the wealth tax.

Now the spotlight falls on the Socialist party and whether the deeply unpopular President Francois Hollande will stand again in his party’s primaries in January. He is expected to announce his decision in the coming days.

Francois Fillon

Francois Fillon was the man to beat going into this run-off vote, and his team knew it. Shortly after polls closed, they were already celebrating at his party headquarters, as the first partial results came in. Within hours, it was confirmed. Fillon had won two-thirds of the vote; a stunning victory for the candidate once seen as the ‘third man’ in the contest.

Fillon promised to build a fairer society, saying France wants “truth and it wants action”. He is likely to face a Socialist candidate and the far-right’s Marine Le Pen in next April’s election.

How can a man, whose hobbies include motor-racing, mountaineering and the bullfight be so impassive, impeccable and grave? That is the central mystery behind France’s possible president-to-be, Francois Fillon.

Detractors say that behind the mask of taciturnity lies a retiring personality ill-suited for the task of head-of-state. Fillon, they say, is one of nature’s lieutenants, a born second-in-command, a would-be leader without the guts to lead. Far from it, reply his supporters. If the former prime minister is reserved, they say, that is because he has a rich interior life – and personal convictions that do not need the reflected affirmation of the media machine. And his path to the top may have been slow. But along the journey he has acquired a wealth of experience. The bid for the presidency, they say, comes from a man finally ready to assume the responsibilities of the office.

Fillon’s political career has certainly been a long one. It was in 1981, aged 27, that he was first elected as a member of parliament, becoming the National Assembly’s youngest member. His party was the Gaullist RPR of Jacques Chirac. Gaullism features a strong centralized state with conservative and nationalist policies.

Fillon’s parents, a history professor mother and lawyer father, were also Gaullists, and he was brought up in comfortable circumstances near the western city of Le Mans.He studied journalism and then law. In 1974 he met his future wife Penelope Clarke. She is Welsh and they have five children, the last born in 2001. They live near Le Mans, in the Sarthe department which remains Fillon’s powerbase.

Fillon’s first ministerial post, higher education, came in 1993 under Prime Minister Edouard Balladur. He went on to hold five other cabinet posts, before serving as prime minister for five years until 2012 under Nicolas Sarkozy.

If the former prime minister is reserved, they say, that is because he has a rich interior life – and personal convictions that do not need the reflected affirmation of the media machine. And his path to the top may have been slow. But along the journey he has acquired a wealth of experience. The bid for the presidency, they say, comes from a man finally ready to assume the responsibilities of the office.

For nearly all of this time, Fillon was identified with the movement known as “social Gaullism”.

Francois Fillon’s French sang-froid and radicalism

Whoever seeks to caricature Fillon as an emotionless masochist must accept that that is at best only part of the picture. This is a man who fell in love with motor-racing as a child when the Austin Healey team stayed in his village during the Le Mans 24-hour race. He could have become a professional driver. He says he has “always had a problem with authority” and as a boy was briefly expelled from school for leading a demonstration against a teacher. He despises politicians who “think of nothing but politics day and night: they are obsessed and unbalanced”. Among his other hobbies are mountaineering and piloting drones. His friend and ally, former minister Roselyine Bachelot, admits the frigid exterior. But she says: “Under the ice there is fire.”

How can a man, whose hobbies include motor-racing, mountaineering and the bullfight be so impassive, impeccable and grave? That is the central mystery behind France’s possible president-to-be, Francois Fillon. His friend and mentor was the late Philippe Seguin, who believed in strong state intervention in the economy and society. Fillon also shared Seguin’s Euroscepticism, and in 1992 both men voted against the Maastricht Treaty that ushered in the euro.

Later as social affairs minister under Jacques Chirac, Fillon had the image of an honest dealer prepared to put in the hours during long negotiations with trade unions.

All of which sits rather oddly, some would say, with the policies of Francois Fillon the presidential candidate, which are avowedly those of a radical economic liberal. In speech after speech in recent weeks, Fillon has spoken in cataclysmic terms of France’s “broken” social model, and the need for drastic cuts in state spending. “Sometimes you need to tear the whole thing down,” he says.

For Gaspard Koenig, of the free-market think tank Generation Libre, the explanation is that since leaving office in 2012. Fillon underwent “a Damascene conversion”. “He spent the last three years travelling up and down the country. He came to see the exasperation of ordinary people and how they wanted more than anything to get the state off their backs,” he says. Fillon’s “virage liberal” (liberal U-turn) is a bold strategy in a country where fans of Margaret Thatcher, as he says he is, are not exactly thick on the ground.

And as his opponents seek to portray Fillon as a dangerous right-winger, another weapon will also be to hand: his Catholicism. He is a practicing Catholic. He is personally opposed to abortion, but says he would never seek to repeal the law. Nor would he seek to ban adoption by gay male couples – though he wants the law changed so that a child can trace its birth mother.

For the left, these are signs of worrying ambiguity on matters that are central to a progressive society. The left-wing newspaper Liberation headlined last week on fears of a return of clerical power. But it is not just left-wingers who see a link between Fillon’s Catholicism, his character, and his policies. For Henri Guaino, a former Sarkozy adviser, Fillon “believes in redemption through pain, the idea that you need to suffer in order to be saved. He believes the country has lived too luxuriously for too long. “So now it needs to make sacrifices. It’s like a purge.”

The same Catholic conviction could explain Fillon’s famous taciturnity, a refusal to be ruffled, that can come across as either old-world courtesy or a cold reluctance to engage. And it might also shed light on one of the big questions over his career: why for five years as prime minister he suffered the constant humiliations inflicted by his boss, the man he came to loathe, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Obviously, Fillon is a born fighter in his own way but refused to choose the Socialist path which is dominant in French politics. .

Observation

Primary in a party is only a first part of presidential battle and many hurdles must be overcome within the party and with the opponent. . Francois Fillon has taken the conservative ticket in next year’s French presidential election by a landslide at party primaries. With nearly all the ballots counted, he had won 66.5% to 33.5% for his run-off rival, Alain Juppe. He has promised to build a fairer society, saying France wanted “truth and… action”.

The job for Fillon now is to unite his party after this unprecedented primary battle, and prepare to take on the governing Socialist party – and the far-right leader Marine Le Pen – in presidential elections next year. A new opinion poll suggests he would easily beat the far right’s Marine Le Pen in the actual election. That is only a suggestion and not the real outcome which will be ready only next year by which time the scenario might change as well. .

Today the names of political parties do not in fact show character or nature or policies of the party – they are just mere names for identification of individual parties as they compete for power.

Neither communist nor socialist nor republican or democratic or any other name mean anything significant about the names In USA, for instance, Democratic party has done exactly what the republican party had done in terms of terror wars and promoting national energy interests in Mideast.

Socialist party in France, notwithstanding its government for too long intermittently, has not achieved any Socialist system of governance or promoted genuinely socialist societal life. Many Socialists and Communists have no ideas about what they stand for.

Elections in the western countries are essentially for the rich and wealthy lords and common people have no place in the poll arena except that they can vote and choose the most wealthiest candidate for the top government job.

French presidency poll is far away but Paris is feeling the heat already.

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Europe

Is European humanity skin deep?

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At the border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova at Palanca, refugees stand in line. © UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau

When talking about security the most common line of thought tends to be war and the actors involved in the attack, however, all the people who had regular lives within those territories that are jeopardized are as important. With the increasing tensions and armed conflicts happening within the Twenty First Century, the movement of people searching for shelter has increased. More asylum seekers leave their home countries every single day and contemporary politics is still struggling to find a way to catch up. Europe, history wise, is the zone of the world that deals with more refugees wanting to enter the continent due to different factors: geography, proximity, democratic systems, level of development and more. Nevertheless, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, true sentiments towards refugees are now being put on display.

Even though all refugees are fleeing their countries because their lives are in mortal danger, authorities and government officials do not seem to care. Processes to apply for the refugee status are getting harder and harder. In Europe, to apply for a refugee passport, people are asked for identifications, online questionaries and many other unrealistic aspects that if not answered correctly, the whole process is cancelled. It is ridiculous to believe that when people are scaping in order to stay alive, they will take under consideration all these requirements to receive help, sometimes even from neighboring countries. Which inevitably leads to the following question: why are refugees accepted based on the legality of their applications and not of their status?

By 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees reached European shores, which caused the so called refugee crisis. They came mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq: countries torn apart by armed conflicts. Similarly, with Russia’s invasion over the Ukraine in 2022, only few days deep within the fighting,  874,000 people had to flee their homes. Nonetheless, the issue seems to be that, for Europe, not all refugees are the same. When the refugee crisis in 2015 was declared, the European Union called for stopping and detaining all arriving refugees for around 18 months. There was a strong reluctancy from Europeans towards offering them shelter. On the contrary, countries such as Poland and Slovakia have said that Ukrainian refugees fleeing will be accepted without passports, or any valid travel documents due to the urgency of the situation. Therefore, stating with their actions, that Ukrainian refugees are more valuable or seem to be more worthy of help than refugees from Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

Correspondingly, it is true that not all countries inside Europe deal and act the same way towards refugees, be that as it may, with the current refugee crisis it has been proved that they all share strong sentiments of xenophobia and racism. For instance, Hungary is a country that refused to admit refugees coming from outside Europe since 2015. In 2018, Prime Minister Viktor Orban described non-European refugees as “Muslim invaders” and “poison” to society, in comparison with Ukrainian refugees who are being welcomed without hesitation. In the same way, Jarosław Kaczyński, who served as Prime Minister of Poland and is the leader of the Law and Justice party, in 2017 said that accepting asylum seekers from Syria would be dangerous and would “completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country”. Furthermore, Germany in 2015 with Chancellor Angela Merkel in charged said that they would accept one million of Syrians. Although, as time passed, Europe’s solution was to make a deal with Turkey, who is not part of the European Union, to close the migrant route. Moreover, the promise of letting refugees integrate into German society was not fulfilled since. Seven year later, an impressive amount of refugees are still in camps and centers, with their lives frozen in time. Sadly, most European governments gambled towards the idea of sending them back once the armed conflict was over, without caring for the aftermath of war’s destruction.

The common narrative until now pushed by leaders, politicians, and mass media has been that Ukrainians are prosperous, civilized, middle class working people, but refugees coming from the Middle East are terrorists, and refuges from Africa are simply too different. Despite, refugees are all people who share similar emotions and struggle to grasp the fact that their lives may never be the same; having lost their homes, friends, family and so much more. Plus, being selectively welcomed based on their religion, skin color or nationality by the continent which’s complete rhetoric is universal rights, just adds another complex layer to the issue. Conjointly, the displacement of people due to war displays how regular individuals are always the ones who suffer the most in consequence to the interests of the few that represent larger powers. Hence, greed, envy, and cruelty are stronger than recognized, even in a developed continent such as Europe.

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What Everyone Should Know About Preventing Ethnic Violence: The Case of Bosnia

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Image source: srebrenica.org.uk

When the Balkans spiraled into violence and genocide in the 90’s, many wondered what caused this resurgence in militant ethnic nationalism and how a similar situation may be countered.

***

The 1990’s were a vibrant decade, that is unless you were living in the Balkans. 1995 was especially bad, as the 11th of July of that year marked the Srebrenica Massacre, which saw Serbian soldiers murder over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims over the span of two weeks. This shocked the world, as it was the first case of a European country resorting to extreme violence and genocide on ethnic lines since World War II. After World War II, the idea that a European country would resort to genocide was unthinkable. As Balkan nations continue to see the consequences of the massacre after over 25 years, it is increasingly evident that more needs to be done to curb ethnic violence.

We must first investigate key causes of ethnic violence. According to V.P. Gagnon, the main driver of ethnic violence is elites that wish to stay in power. Ethnic nationalism is easy to exploit, as creating a scapegoat is extremely effective for keeping elites in power. This is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia, which had previously seen high levels of tolerance and intermarriage in more mixed areas that saw the worst violence during the war. Stuart J. Kaufman argues that elites may take advantage of natural psychological fears of in-group extinction, creating group myths, or stereotypes, of outgroups to fuel hatred against them. While they may take different approaches to this issue, Gagnon and Kaufman agree that the main drivers of ethnic violence are the elites.

David Lake and Donald Rothchild suggest that the main driver of ethnic conflict is collective fears for the future of in-groups. Fear is one of the most important emotions we have because it helps secure our existence in a hostile world. However, fear can easily be exploited by the elites to achieve their personal goals. In a multiethnic society such as Yugoslavia, the rise of an elite that adheres to the prospects of a single ethnic group could prove dangerous and sometimes even disastrous. The destruction of Yugoslavian hegemony under Josip Broz Tito and the resulting explosion of ethnic conflict at the hands of Serbian elites in Bosnia underline this because of the immense fear this created.

Regions with high Serb populations in Bosnia sought independence from the rest of the country when they found themselves separated from Serbia by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Republika Srpska was formed by these alienated Serbs. The leadership and elites in Serbia riled up the Serb population of Republika Srpska by stereotyping and demonizing Bosnian Muslims as “descendants of the Turkish oppressors”. This scared the Serbs in Bosnia so much so that they obeyed the elites of Serbia in supporting and fighting for the independence of Republika Srpska by any means necessary. As was seen in Srebrenica, they were not opposed to genocide.

We know how the elites fuel ethnic tensions to secure power as well of the devastating effects of these tensions reaching their boiling point. But what could be done to address ethnic conflict? David Welsh suggests that a remedy for ethnic conflict could be the complete enfranchisement of ethnic minorities and deterrence towards ethnic cleansing. This means that we must ensure that ethnic minorities are able to have a say in a democratic system that caters to all ethnicities equally. Fostering aversion to genocide is also vital toward addressing ethnic conflict because it is the inevitable result of unchecked ethnic conflict.

There is also the issue of members of ethnic groups voting for candidates and parties on ethnic lines. For example, in the United States, White American voters have shown to prefer White candidates over African American candidates, and vice versa. Keep in mind that the United States has a deep history of ethnic conflict, including the centuries-long subjugation of African Americans by White Americans.

Ethnic violence is horrifying and destructive, but it can be prevented. The first measure would be the establishment of a representative democracy, where members of all ethnicities are accurately represented. Another measure would be to make ethnic conflict and ethnic stereotyping taboo so that the average person would not resort to genocidal behavior once things go wrong. Lastly, making people feel secure is the most important step towards preventing ethnic conflict. If the people feel secure enough, they will not even need to think about ethnic violence. In short, while it is important to consider the differences of the various ethnic groups in a multiethnic society, it is vital that each group is kept represented and secure, free of any fears of subjugation.

While the case of Bosnia was extremely unfortunate, it provides an integral view into what could happen if perceived subjugation and fear of eradication reaches a breaking point. As was seen in Bosnia, ethnic violence can be extremely violent, resulting in untold suffering and death. That is why we must take necessary steps towards de-escalation and remediation of ethnic conflicts. These measures can, quite literally, save millions of lives.

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French Presidential Election 2022 and its significance for Europe

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Eugene Delacroix’s infamous painting “la liberté Guidant le Peuple” reminds the whole world of the July Revolution of 1830 that toppled King Charles X of France. The lady in the centre of the painting with the French tricolour still symbolizes the concept of liberty and reminds the whole world of revolutions and sacrifices made for freedom. France indeed has a long journey from revolting against “if they have no bread, let them eat cake” in 1789 to establishing a modern democratic society with the principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity”.  

France and the United States are rightly considered the birthplace of modern democracy. The French revolution taught the whole world lessons about revolution, freedom modern nationalism, liberalism and sovereignty. In 2022, France celebrates the 233rd year of Bastille Day which led to a new dawn in the French political system. From establishing 1ere Republique (1st Republic) in 1792, France has evolved and is currently under the 5eme Republique (5th Republic) under the constitution crafted by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.

Today, France is holding its presidential elections. As the French believe, ‘You first vote with your heart, then your head’, the first round of voting was concluded on Sunday 10th April and the Presidential debate on 20th April 2022. While the whole world waits for the 24th of April’s second round of elections and their results, this article attempts to understand the French electoral system and analyze Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

French electoral system

France is a semi-presidential democracy; the president is at the centre of power and Prime Minister heads the government. The president of the French republic is elected by direct universal suffrage where all French citizens aged 18 and above can vote, whether residing in France or not. In France, there is a two-round system in which voters vote twice on two Sundays, two weeks apart. This two-round system is widely practised in central and eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, South America and Africa.

In order to apply, a candidate needs 500 signatures of elected officials and they should be at least from 30 government departments. A candidate can be an independent or he or she can represent a political party. There is no limit to how many candidates can run for presidential elections. For instance, in 2002 there were 16 candidates, in 2017- 11 and in 2022 there are 12. While all the candidates have the right to equal media presence, the amount of spending on campaigns is also monitored; for the 1st round, the spending must not exceed 16.9 million euros and for the second round, it has been limited to 22.5 million euros.

This year, the 1st round of voting was concluded on 10th April while the second one is scheduled to be held on 24th April 2022. In the first round, all 12 candidates were eligible but for the second round, only two candidates who got the maximum votes are qualified for the second round.

A brief overview of French presidential candidates

Emmanuel Macron, five years ago at the age of 39, became the youngest French president of the French republic. In 2017, he broke the dominance of the two major French parties- Republicans and Socialists- by running a campaign “neither left nor right”. During the tenure of Emmanuel Macron, a hardcore centrist, France has witnessed a 7% GDP growth, unemployment dropped by 7.2% and the crime rate has fallen to 27%.

A far-rightist, Marine Le Pen is the other presidential candidate who succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as leader of the National Front (later National Rally) party in 2011. She was also contesting against Emmanuel Macron during the 2017 elections and before that in 2012, against Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. While she embraced the party’s anti-immigration stance, she rebranded the party’s Euroskepticism as French nationalism.

This year, in the April 2022 elections, the current President of France, Emanuel Macron and far-right leader, Marine Le Pen are the two candidates with Macron running ahead with a lead of 4.7 per cent votes (Emmanuel Macron-27.8% & Marine Le Pen- 23.1%).

Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

While European defence is primarily assured by the US-led NATO military alliance, of which most EU states are members, French president Macron said,  “Europe needs to finally build its own collective security framework on our continent…”, advocating for a ‘European Security’ framework amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

On the other hand, Le Pen’s party has been looked upon suspiciously that it might have received financing from a Russian bank connected to the Russian President Putin. In an interview with French public radion, Le pen said, “It will be necessary diplomatically, when the war [in Ukraine] is over, when a peace treaty has been signed, to try to avoid this tie-up which risks being the largest danger of the 21st century for us,” she even further added, “Imagine … if we let the first producer of raw materials in the world — which is Russia — [create an alliance] with the first factory of the world — which is China — to let them perhaps constitute the first military power of the world. I believe that it’s a potentially great danger.” These statements only further reinforce the claims that Le Pen is more pro-Russia.

While Macron is anti-Brexit, Le Pen, on the other hand, has been known for her ‘Frexit’ plan, meaning, that she wanted France to leave the EU and abandon the euro. However, during the 2022 elections, it appears that Le Pen has softened her stance on Frexit. Another important issue pertaining to immigration has been significant not only for France but the whole of Europe. This issue of immigration is directly linked with the “economic and cultural concerns” which raises an important worry about immigrants’ socio-political and economic integration into the French society and abiding by the principle of laïcité (secularism with French characters).

As for Macron, he wants to create a “rapid reaction force” to help protect EU states’ borders in case of a migrant surge and is also pushing for a rethink of the bloc’s asylum application process. Macron also said that he urges the EU to be more efficient in deporting those refused entries. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen during her campaign stated, “I will control immigration and establish security for all.” It is pertinent to note that Macron has introduced strict laws pertaining to immigration and controlling Islamic radicalization. For instance, he introduced the bill to ban foreign funding to mosques.

What is more interesting to mention is the concerns about ‘energy’ in the presidential election. Evidently, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has gained more attention on the economic and geopolitical consequences of existing national and European energy supply chain choices. In France especially, there is a major rift between the pro and anti-nuclear power fractions. Interestingly, France has the second most nuclear power stations in the world after the United States.  Besides, in the last week of the elections, Macron has been attempting to win the hearts of the French voters with his proposal for a “complete renewal” of his climate policy. He has also promised to build up to 14 nuclear reactors by 2050 and regenerate existing plants. Meanwhile, Le Pen has promised to build 20 nuclear plants and aim to have nuclear power provide 81 per cent of France’s energy by 2050. While the current president Macron and far-right candidate Le Pen have both committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming, it is evident that their approaches differ particularly on energy. Since France is Europe’s second-biggest economy, France’s climate policy could echo right across the EU.

Besides, in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, Macron has played a significant role as he is the bridgehead for Russia and the US. He has also negotiated talks between Washington DC and Moscow and has also condemned the crisis by making the statement, “Russia is not under attack, it is the aggressor. As some unsustainable propaganda would have us believe, this war is not as big as the battle against, that is a lie.” Indeed, he has played the role of Europe’s de-facto leader vis-à-vis the Ukraine crisis. Nonetheless, with a marginal win in the first round against Marine Le Pen, winning the 2nd term is not as easy as it was five years ago.

More importantly, it is pertinent to note that France has the 2nd strongest military and 2nd biggest economy in Europe, further the 5th biggest economy in the world. France is not only the most visited country in the world but also ranks 1st in the global soft power index. It is also the founding member of the United Nations Security Council, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union which makes it an important player in European politics. Consequently, the policies of the French leadership not only direct the political, social and economic lives of the French but also reverberate in Europe.

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