The French elections are slated to be held in two phases in April and May. Before going on to what the likely results are going to be, one needs to look at what happened in the primaries and who the candidates are. As far as the conservative party (the Republicans) is concerned, Francois Fillon scored convincing victories over his rivals Nicholas Sarkozy initially and in the later round over Alain Juppe. In the contest against Alain Juppe, Fillon received 66.5 per cent of the votes to Juppe’s 30 plus per cent.
Until a few weeks before the primaries, Alain Juppe had been the favourite to win the polls. However, to everyone’s surprise, Fillon came out the winner. This was the first time that France had an open primary for the Republicans where any citizen, irrespective of his / her party affiliation, was allowed to vote after paying 2 Euros and signing a charter saying that they agreed with the Republican values of the centre and the right. Fillon’s convincing win in the primaries came as a result of reassuring performances during the primaries. The Socialist Party would conduct its primaries in one or possibly two phases depending on how the outcome shapes up.
Coming to the Presidential elections, the French use a two-round system to decide their President. If a candidate does not obtain a majority vote in the first round, the top two contenders would face off in the second round to determine the winner. The most likely scenario is that Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen (from the National Front) will contest in the second round. The radical National Front portrays itself to be extremely nationalistic and aims to pull a ‘Frexit’. Also it is known for its anti-immigration stance, anti-established parties and anti-globalisation stances.
A mention will also have to be made about Emmanuel Macron simply because he seems to be the only contender who could beat Marine Le Pen to set up a second round contest with Francois Fillon. He is contesting as a maverick candidate. Till now, Macron is in a distant third position behind Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen. In the first round, recent opinion polls show that Fillon would top the election by winning between 26 and 29 per cent of the vote with Marine Le Pen coming in second by getting between 24 and 25 per cent. Macron would be coming in third between 13 and 18 per cent of the votes. Obviously, this means that the ruling socialist party is all set for an historic drubbing. If not the most unpopular president, Francois Holland is believed to be one of the all-time unpopular presidents.
There has been a spurt of far right parties in Europe right from Germany (The Alternative for Germany) to Holland (The Party for Freedom) to Italy (The 5 Star Movement) to Greece (The Golden Dawn). The important question is with Brexit and an astounding Trump victory, is France all set for a Marine Le Pen victory? Most of the political analysts went wrong in the previous two instances. This time the pundits are careful by saying that even though the opinion polls show Francois Fillon winning, one should not discount a Marine Le Pen win.
Many of the European countries have a centre right party, a centre left party and a far right party. In France, in 2002, to most people’s surprise, Jean-Marie Le Pen (Marine Le Pen’s father and founder of the National Front) went on to win the first round by pushing Lionel Jospin of the Socialist Party to the third place. Jacques Chirac finished first and hence Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen contested in the second round. Almost all of the political parties came together and called out to their support base to vote against Le Pen. As a result, Jacques Chirac scored a huge victory. More recently, in 2015, the Republicans and the Socialists came together again to defeat the National Front.
A similar scenario is expected to happen again in 2017. That apart, a case can be made out to say that Francois Fillon is more reformist than Marine Le Pen, at least in the economy. He is an ardent admirer of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher, as most are aware, tamed the trade union during her tenure. At one point of time, in the late 1970s, the unions in Great Britain went on strike and refused to even clear the litter that was lying on the streets. By defeating the miners’ strike in 1985, Thatcher demoralised millions of union members. According to the BBC, Union membership fell from a peak of 12 million in the late 70s to almost half of that in the late 1980s. Much of the credit has to be given to Margaret Thatcher.
Coming to Francois Fillon, his plans include slashing public funding by 100 million Euros, scrapping a tax for the wealthy, cutting down social security, pushing the retirement age to 65, doing away with the 35 work hour week and also increasing VAT sales tax. Fillon has also asked for closer ties with Russia (so has Le Pen), a strategic alliance with Assad in Syria to defeat the Islamic State and deportation of illegal immigrants. Even if he is able to implement a part of what he has planned to do, that would augur well for France. It looks like France is getting geared up for a reset of relations with Russia.
Under Marine Le Pen, the National Front has shifted from an economically liberal pro-small business party to one that assures a lower retirement age and a continuation of France’s welfare schemes. Le Pen is socially liberal, supports gay rights and abortion. Both Fillon and Le Pen have a hardline stance towards political Islam. However Fillon is opposed to gay marriage. Hence Fillon is aware of the fact that in the second round, he might have to win the vote of the left leaning voters and has moderated many of his stances. Recently, his controversial proposal about the healthcare reform proposal was deleted from his website.
It is predictions time!!! The Republicans in the U.S. did it in 2016!!! It is time for the Republicans in France!!! As one reader in the Wall Street Journal put it nicely,
“Francois Fillon is all set to make France great again!!!”
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author
Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China
Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.
Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.
The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.
Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China. Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.
“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.
The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.
In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.
The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.
The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.
I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?
“Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.
What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.
Germany and its Neo-imperial quest
In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.
Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia?
Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.
In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.
Should there be an age limit to be President?
The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.
To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?
Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.
We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.
The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.
In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.
Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.
40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.
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