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Russia vs. West: EU-Russia strained relations

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap]est continues to be anti-Russia even during the early reign of President Trump who claimed to try and drastically improve relations with its Cold War foe. End ideology in Russia and Eastern Europe has not helped the situation to improve. USA continues to control policy making processes in Europe and does not let Europe think for itself and EU does not want lose the US help. As such Russia’s efforts to bring EU out of US control mechanisms have not been successful for obvious reasons.

US hand in Ukraine

Russian ties with the western world have never been smooth though at times they are seen making some efforts to make up and even stop fighting each other. Mutual mistrust is the main cause for the conflictual situation and this mistrust is not without any base. The 9/11 that helped both to forget their differences and forge a common front against Islam on the promotion of media Islamophobia, could not sustain itself too long as the trust deficit between them is too strong.

USA influenced the government of Kiev (Ukraine), considered historically bound with Russia since its early formatary stages, to oppose Russia. That indeed annoyed Russian iron President Vladimir Putin who in order to redeem Russia’s lost prestige retook Crimea. Annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, now a part of Europe and EU, by Russia has cut its relations with both USA and Europe almost simultaneously.

Mutual sanctions hurt EU and Russia, economically. USA continues to press EU not to lift the sanctions on Russia. It is three years since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and began its covert invasion of eastern Ukraine. At the time, it seemed like the start of a more ambitious Israel-like land-grab. His rhetoric implied that Ukrainian and Belarusian independence was only a historical anomaly.

President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB boss working in Europe, first came to power in 2000 by killing Chechen Muslims in a well planned military attack on Chechnya; he has made all efforts to make Russia super power once again and he shrewdly managed the foreign policy, made Russia emerge as a super power. When Putin described Russians as “one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders,” Russia’s neighbors — some of them homes to large Russian minorities — wondered whether he meant to erase those borders. Eastern Europe, dotted with frozen conflicts of Russia’s making, is stuck in transition to an uncertain future. Though he still holds Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, Putin has alienated the rest of Ukraine. But the West also has little to congratulate itself on.

Putin’s pet project has been to bring in former Soviet states into Russian fold. Three years on, one is not quite sure if Putin’s project has made any headway. But the west says he has clearly failed. But Moscow’s willingness to use economic and military coercion in its neighborhood has alienated many who might otherwise have felt an affinity with Russia.

Conspiracy

With Superpower instinct, Vladimir Putin opposes the fall and disintegration of the mighty Soviet Union as a western conspiracy and said that Ukrainian and Belarusian independence was only a historical anomaly. When he described Russians as “one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders,” Russia’s neighbors — some of them homes to large Russian minorities — wondered whether he meant to erase those borders.

Today, the USA and the EU remain extremely cautious about Russia’s imperial intentions and see a hidden agenda of the Kremlin to revive Soviet Union in another format. Russia is unhappy that most of the former Soviet Republics have been admitted into US led NATO and Germany led European Union (EU). The European Union has consistently dodged the issue of possible EU membership for any of the six former Soviet states that now lie in Europe (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). Russia has a clearer vision for the region than the West does. It has never treated the six states as fully sovereign. After Putin became president for the third time, in 2012, he stepped up efforts to keep former Soviet states inside what his predecessor, Dmitriy Medvedev, described as a “region of privileged interests”.

As USA guides European policies, Western leaders do admit that Russia has a veto on its neighbors’ foreign policies. But even a few want a fight with Russia even with US backing. They are scared of Russian military prowess. Eastern Europeans who want their countries (and Turkey that would join the EU) to meet European “standards” of governance and join Western institutions have become disillusioned by the West’s failure to offer full-throated support against the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, a After Kiev announced the travel ban on Samoylova from entering Ukraine for the next three years, the Russian TV network Vesti declared that Russian television will not broadcast this year’s Eurovision contest, though the broadcasting rights for the 2017 competition actually belong to a rival station in Russia, Channel One. It’s not yet clear if Channel One will agree to the EBU’s offer, having announced previously that it will send Samoylova as Russia’s contestant for Eurovision 2018, in light of Ukraine’s “unreasonable” decision.

Eastern Europeans who want their countries to meet European standards of governance and join Western institutions have become disillusioned by the West’s failure to offer full-throated support. Few Western leaders admit that Russia has a veto on its neighbors’ foreign policies. But even fewer want a fight with Russia.

So what can Eastern European countries do if they do not want to be in Russia’s orbit but cannot join Western institutions? Have they lost their independent capacity to decide their own matters?

Region of privileged interests

Russia has a clearer vision for the East European and former Soviet zone regions than the West does. It has never treated the former six Soviet states as fully sovereign. After Putin became president for the third time, in 2012, he stepped up efforts to keep former Soviet states inside what his predecessor, Dmitriy Medvedev, described as a “region of privileged interests”. But Moscow’s willingness to use economic and military coercion in its neighborhood has alienated many who might otherwise have felt an affinity with Russia.

The top priority of EU should be establishing the rule of law. Countries where courts work and laws are stable will be more attractive to foreign investors and less vulnerable to economic pressure. The West can help by making it harder for local elites to launder the proceeds of corruption through the EU or US. Denying Turkey its due place in EU as a European state just because of Islamic religion is not at all fair.

Meanwhile, Russia needs to treat all regions fairly. Geography and economics mean that the Eastern Partnership countries would benefit from good political and trade relations with Russia. They should not shy away from this, as long as relations are on the basis of sovereign equality, consistent rules and mutual benefit. Ensuring that minority ethnic groups are fairly treated is also vital. Disaffected minorities have been fertile soil for Russia to promote separatist conflicts — there is less scope for mischief if all communities have a stake in society.

The West should use the coming years to try to persuade Moscow that, whether or not more countries join Western institutions (and even the most advanced are decades away from membership), it is in everyone’s interests that they should be prosperous, stable and well-governed.

West tells Moscow that it is time to give up its nostalgia for empire. The biggest policy shift must come from both USA and Russia that continue to behave as though their prestige and fate depends on controlling Europe and neighbours. Europe’s other imperial powers have realized that it is better to create shared economic and other interests with former possessions than to try to coerce them.

Putin said US-Russia relations have touched the lowest level now as President Trump continues to behave erratically, especially with his bombing Syria, in order to   get special media coverage.

A major issue

The European Union has consistently dodged the issue of possible EU membership for any of the six former Soviet states that lie in Europe (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). NATO leaders agreed in 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine “will become members of NATO.” But after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, NATO dragged its feet on fulfilling that promise.

Europeans have an important job at hand as they have the future of the fragile union in their own hands. As they strive to remain united because in unity lies their strength they Russia a disturbing or destabilizing factor.

Both USA and EU talk about ‘common values” and say Russians do not share their values. While, any genuine rapprochement with Russia is difficult to foresee in their differences in the near future, the EU would strive to engage Russia where possible and speak out when their views clash as they are too important to one another. But any engagement is firmly based on the grounds of the international rules-based system and its principles and values. The spirit of Eurovision’s values of inclusivity goes against any real truck with Russia.

Between Russia and the EU, Eastern Europe’s Future is Uncertain. Eastern Europe, dotted with frozen conflicts of Russia’s making, is stuck in transition to an uncertain future. It is three years since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and began its covert invasion of eastern Ukraine. At the time, it seemed like the start of a more ambitious land-grab.

Three years on, Putin’s project has clearly failed. Though he still holds Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, he has alienated the rest of Ukraine. But the West also has little to congratulate itself on. Eastern Europe, dotted with frozen conflicts of Russia’s making, is stuck in transition to an uncertain future.

Will European Union survive?

Lighting or illumination is considered to be a happy expression for something that has happened well, the Tel Aviv city hall building in Israel was illuminated in “solidarity” with Russia after the blast in the St.Petersburg metro in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 3, 2017. As a terrorist nation, making terrorizing the besieged Palestinians as their major hobby, Israel is through about state terror operations and their needs.   Whether or not Israel was happy and over joyous about the terror attacks in Russia is not very clear, though.

The survival of European Union as multinational continental entity is a major theme of debates and media reports as the fate of survival depends on factors that seem to be intractable.

Obviously, Brexit has given a jolt to Germany’s efforts to strengthen the Union with further measures. Though many in Britain rethink the decision to quit EU for good, the decision of the people and parliament is final and only few formalities need to b completed to make UK a totally soverign nation.

In fact, the fate of EU had been the subject of heated debates even much before Britain opted out of EU. Over years of meticulous steps undertaken by the EU make it look a cohesive multi-nation, now it is much better than a few years ago.

Recently, European leaders came together to celebrate 60 years of the continent’s greatest peacetime project: the European Union. And today, 60 years later, the vision remains alive and we can be proud of our achievements. Europe has turned from a continent of war to a continent of peace. This project has brought together 28 European states, more than 500 million people speaking 24 languages in one union, the EU.

The EU today might symbolize peaceful cooperation, respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality and solidarity among European nations and peoples. It is the largest trade power and development and humanitarian aid donor. The world’s largest single market and the euro is the second most important global reserve currency.

Back on March 25, 1957, the Founding Fathers signed the Treaty of Rome – an act that resolutely put an end to the trend of devastating wars between neighbors on our continent. Fundamentally a people’s project, Europeans pledged “farewell to arms” and “never again war.” President Juncker stated that they are the heirs of those who first established Europe, of those men and women who in 1945 returned from the front and the concentration camps to towns and villages which had been destroyed. He added that putting behind them animosities among neighbors and reconciling the feeling of national identity with a commitment to the common good, Europeans vowed to work toward a vision of a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe.

EU today may be home to the largest union of democracies in the world and legally European citizens are free to live, work and retire anywhere in Europe. It is at the cutting edge of innovation. EU membership has resulted in increased and shared prosperity. This makes them a strong partner when they all together need to adapt and to face the new challenges of the world: effects of rapid globalization continued armed conflict and the rise of terror, poverty and migration, a degrading environment and resource depletion.

USA insists that Russia is a destabilizing factor in their ties and the term “challenge” is also used nowadays to describe the state of EU-Russia ties. As spelled out in the EU Global Strategy, “managing the relationship with Russia represents a key strategic challenge for the European Union.” For the last couple of decades, the EU and Russia had assumed a strategic partnership based on the convergence of values, economic integration, and modernisation of our societies.

Economic partners

However, the partnership faced a breakpoint in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilization in Eastern Ukraine. From that point forward and today, it is clear that Russia and the EU have some deep differences: they relate to the European security order, principles of pluralism and human rights, the need for an open market economy and a rules-based trading system. At the same time, Russia and the EU remain strategically important to each other.

The EU remains the largest trading partner for Russia, while Russia is the EU’s fourth largest. We also have a number of shared concerns, such as the threat of terrorism, climate change and the situation in the Middle East. The success of the joint efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran demonstrates that we can cooperate in the international arena.

Many see Europe’s long-term security in regime change in the Kremlin would welcome the opportunity to bring into question the incumbent’s assertions that Russians are alone and embattled. A few small-minded individuals somehow think St. Petersburg does not “deserve” sympathy because of Sevastopol, who assume that every terrible incident is some kind of “false flag” operation instigated by Putin to generate some kind of “rally-round-the-flag” sentiment, is not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

To move forward by shedding the US luggage, the EU would continue to undertake substantial and significant steps that provide a direct impetus to strengthening people to people contacts both within the Union and with Russia. From cooperation across our common border through student exchanges to support for civil society – those are the efforts that form the real glue between our peoples.

Observation

The West seeks to spread confusion, dismay, suspicion and uncertainty, globally. Everything is symbolic, and by not showing solidarity, Europe played into the hands of a Kremlin narrative that has been deployed again and again on far flimsier grounds. The Kremlin argues that the West is fundamentally Russophobic, and it delights in seeing woes of every kind besetting Russia.

Unlike the Cold War between superpowers, Europe wages a “hybrid war” or ‘political war’ against Russia engineering disinformation and political subversion. The corollary is that every time the European Court of Human Rights censures Moscow, every time an EU delegation calls for greater transparency, every time a Western observer notes flaws in electoral processes, it can neatly be discounted as European mischief-making at best, and at worst ‘hybrid war.’

World is in the midst of a renewed Cold War and there are all kinds of reasons for Europe to feel hostile toward Russia, from its annexation of Crimea, to its aggressive intelligence activity. Nonetheless, there is a higher calling of human sympathy, a sense that we are all united in the face of the unexpected and undiscriminating threat of terrorism.

Many in EU seek a ban their dirty-money oligarchs and their paranoid-patriot lawmakers, but they do welcome their students, tourists, artists and entrepreneurs. This supposedly denies the Kremlin’s propagandists easy opportunities. Indeed, it actively undermines their pernicious narrative that seeks to force Russians into an artificial choice between us and them, patriot or traitor.

NATO and EU do not want any truck between Russia and former Soviet republics most of them are now their own members NATO leaders agreed in 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine “will become members of NATO.” But after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, NATO grew panicky and dragged its feet on fulfilling that promise.

Notwithstanding the US opposition to Russia and future of Euro-Russia relations, 60 years of experience since the signing of the Rome Treaty shows that a united EU is capable of strengthening and extending the wellbeing of European people. And a united EU will be a strong and reliable partner to countries around the world, including Russia.

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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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