Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Watering Her Wine

Marine Le Pen faces one of the paradoxes of democracy. Many in France feel that the EU constrains French economic policy in unacceptable ways, but they don't want to leave it.  (Technically speaking, there are Condorcet cycles in French preferences.) Le Pen has made attacking the EU-imposed constraints a centerpiece of her campaign, but as voters contemplate the possibility of an FN victory, they have become increasingly nervous that she might actually make good on her promise. So she has been playing up her deference to "the will of the people" by promising a post-election referendum on the euro and the EU, trying to have her cake and eat it too. But this compromises her image as a no-nonsense authoritarian. Not quite as shameless as Donald Trump on Obamacare, she can't make people believe that she will both smash the EU and retain its benefits. But as with Trump, the contradictions in her underlying position are increasingly undermining her appeal. Unfortunately, Americans were slow to cotton on to Trump's flagrant flaws. Le Pen's recent back-tracking shows that she is afraid the French are already onto her.


bert said...

Much as I'd like to see her buckle under the weight of her contradictions, this strikes me as sensible politics. She's been talking about a referendum on EU membership since at least 2015 (when David Cameron put a referendum pledge in his manifesto as something to trade away in coalition talks with the LibDems, only to accidentally win an overall majority). To put the question of eurozone membership on the same footing is not a neck-snapping shift. The question of whether or not you're going to elect a fascist as president seems large enough. Turning the election into an in-out referendum on the euro would be a choice - entirely on her part - to complicate things unnecessarily. As things are, you can see a workable populist line: vote for me and you get a voice, vote for the other guy and you get what you're given.
Your larger point is that there's a tension between on the one hand remaining the disruptive candidate of change and on the other hand not being marginalised as a risky option. If she can reassure waverers that a separate mandate will be needed before the riskiest questions are settled, she goes quite some way to resolving that tension. The cost, if I understand you right, is to her image of decisiveness. But would it necessarily cut against the brand? Her campaign theme is all about ”le peuple”. The promise would be to give the people a chance to express their views on an issue that has been reserved as out of bounds by technocratic elites. Is that obviously a vote-loser?
The advantage of this approach is that it would shore up one of her weaknesses. You mentioned in another post one of the striking differences between her and Trump: her relative strength among young voters. The corrollary of that is her relatively poor performance among older voters, based in large part on justifiable fears that messing around with the currency could have unpleasant consequences for those relying on a fixed pension.

Anonymous said...

Among its writers' New Year predictions, a French writer for the FT predicted that the French would not accept an exit from the Euro and a return to a nationally-backed currency. This speaks to the characteristic reluctance of the French to embrace change, both a strength and a weakness. French reverence for "old ways" is not exactly what Marine Le Pen has been peddling; she has tried to embrace a certain idea of France --influential in the world by dint of its independent spirit, its stubbornness and its return to French values --of the kind that had their heyday during the Dreyfus affair --anti-Semitic, bellicose and swathed in the French flag; as well as anti-immigrant, anti- the "other". To tell the French that the country can go it alone might have played well in the lead up to the voting, but embracing Russia, taking a loan from a foreign power to advance her campaign, now hedging on her pledge to take France out of the EU --Le Pen is starting to slip, of course, as you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
--Or at least that's what I'm hoping.

bert said...

On the numbers, this proves nothing, but seems worth mentioning all the same.

It's from Pew, from spring 2016.
Look at the number for the UK. A few weeks later, the Brexit vote was held.
Now look at the number for France.
Like I say, it's probably an outlier, but you see why it stuck in my mind.

Tim said...

While Le Pen is claiming to give the people a "choice" she is also saying she will resign as President if the people don't vote the way she wants(Which could very well happen in the unlikely scenario she is elected President) something that is very uncommon in Presidential system. More importantly she is threatening to resign as a prospective first term President after less than six months in office.

Mitch Guthman said...

The "horse race" aspects aside, I'm surprised that there aren't attacks against Le Pen demanding specifics of what she plans on doing and how she plans on doing it. I personally think that the Euro is a deathtrap for France but I don't see any way of returning to the franc without precipitating a horrific financial crisis. This question was explored during the Greek crisis by real experts and I believe the consensus was that only Greece could exit the euro zone because they had nothing left to lose.

Similarly, there are probably many changes to EU policies and regulations that would be beneficial to France. But, as we're seeing in England, a country that wishes to continue trading with EU countries cannot simply withdraw from the union and exempt itself from those regulations. So how does Le Pen propose to continue enjoying the benefits of the EU without the concomitant obligations?

Mitch Guthman said...


I'm actually in complete agreement with Le Pen on this resignation business. The merits aside, what she's proposing is a hugely consequential and intensely controversial referendum on the core policies of her agenda. For her government to continue in office after losing such a referendum would be unthinkable.

I also think that the legislative measure that modern governments in France and the United Kingdom to ensure that they get to serve out what are essentially fixed terms have been very harmful.

Tommy Wiseau said...

ayyy TW im no robot

Tim said...


I get what you are saying but calling for such a referendum within the first six months vs within her first mandate is a radical position. Rene Levesque in his first election only pledged to conduct a referendum on Quebec Sovereignty within his first mandate not his first six months in office.

In terms of renegotiating France's relationship with the EU as a practical matter nothing can really be done for the next two years until Britain has finally left(This also puts the squeeze on MLP's claim for renegotiation in the first six months not that I think she is at all sincere in that desire). In some ways that is a good thing as any treaty changes or renegotiations will be easier to accomplish with Britain gone however, it puts politicians such as JLM and Hamon who want renegotiation now in a difficult position.

bert said...

MLP would be an existential crisis for the EU, in a way that Brexit simply isn't. If she's elected you can be sure the political adjustments will begin immediately. You might not want to call them renegotiations, but that might be a distinction without a difference. Nobody is going to pretend that things can carry on as normal.

The resignation pledge is a potential complication. Recently the Dutch voted in a referendum on an association agreement with Ukraine. Voters used the opportunity to send a bunch of different messages, very few of them having anything to do with the question on the ballot paper. In France, an EU or euro referendum with a resignation pledge attached would become at least in part a re-run of the presidential election, with a tempting built-in opportunity to change the result. That doesn't seem like smart politics on her part. As Art's noted, she's shown that winging it is a way of working she's quite comfortable with. I wouldn't assume that her current position is set in stone.

I agree with those above who dislike this whole referendum business. I probably shouldn't make a habit of quoting Margaret Thatcher here, but in this case she herself was quoting Clem Attlee: ”the referendum is a device of dictators and demagogues”. Recent UK polling shows a marked shift of opinion on the subject, and a clear class/education divide.

Tim said...


I agree with you overall that IF MLP was elected it would definitely be a political shock. I will note though there is a long tradition of politicians who call referendums NOT getting the result they want whether it be David Cameron and Brexit or Brian Mulroney and Charlottetown and on and on. In fact the last really big referendum "won" by the politician who called it was Mitterand and Maastricht and given that MLP essentially wants to overturn the Maastricht referendum this is not exactly the most auspicious example.

bert said...

I'd bet on a whole series of shocks, political and economic, messily interacting.
If your job is to find private buyers for Italian sovereign debt, in the period between MLP winning the election and holding her euro referendum, how much harder does your job get? Impossibly hard? Possibly so. But Italy is too​ big to bail, they say.

My point is that we shouldn't assume a period of calm during which MLP holds and loses her referendum. And the immediate context in which the vote is held will be very important.
Those one-sided numbers I linked to earlier were collected a few months after the Bataclan in the middle of a migrant crisis.

Jorge Kahwagi said...

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