European elections countdown:Â In this occasional series, we take a look at what is at stake in key European elections this year.Â
One outcomeÂ of the French presidential election on Sunday is certain: Europe won’t be the same.
The choice between candidates, however, could hardly be more stark.
A victory by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen would shake the foundations of the Western world. President Trump’s victory was seen as consequential in Europe, but a Le Pen win would be incomparably more significant, some liberals say. Whereas Trump has frequently changed hisÂ mind on issues, Le Pen’s agenda has remained virtually unchanged for years. She has vowed to pull France out of NATO‘s military command, the euro zone and the European Union. Few doubt that she would deliver.
Her centrist opponent, Emmanuel Macron, who is leading in the polls, takes an opposing view: His pro-European agenda is based on aÂ neoliberal economic approachÂ and on a moderate stance on social issues. He wouldÂ also be the most pro-American French president in a long time.
âWith Macron as French president, the U.S. will encounter a much stronger, strategic, self-confident, forward-thinking France and therefore Europe,â said Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow at the D.C.-basedÂ Atlantic Council who works in France. âThe U.S., whether it understands it or not, needs a strong Europe.â
Americans who live in France say there are several reasons that a Macron victory couldÂ benefit the United States. France is a strong NATO ally andÂ has recently conducted airstrikes against the Islamic State alongside the United States and other nations. French forces have also participated in NATOÂ operations in Afghanistan. Le Pen, however, wants to cooperate more closely with Russia instead ofÂ the United States.
Economically, a French exit from the euro zone would create market turmoil and have unpredictable long-term repercussions on exchange rates, trading policies and laws thatÂ allow American companies to operate in the European Union. After all, the E.U. is the United States’ biggest trading partner.
âIf Le Pen were to win, (it)Â will certainly impact American industries and workers,â saidÂ Martin Michelot,Â a Paris-based researcherÂ with the German Marshall Fund, an American think tank.
A different approach
In the U.S., presidential and congressional elections take place simultaneously. The FrenchÂ head to the polls three times, making the outcome even more unpredictable.
Sunday may be the second and final round of the French presidential election. But whoever wins will needÂ to secureÂ yet another victoryÂ in June during the legislative elections.
If the next French president in unable toÂ capture the lower house of Parliament, he or she will faceÂ five years of governing without being able to rely on a majority of lawmakers. Although French presidentsÂ have more powers than leaders in many other nations, they still need their partiesÂ to push throughÂ legislative changes.
With France’s traditional parties in disarray and a growingÂ split along ideological lines, the winner is likely to be forced to cooperate with other parties andÂ reach out to opponents.
It’s a scenario that already reminds some of Trump’sÂ deadlock with Congress,Â where Democrats and some Republicans are challenging the president.
The French have traditionally been quite proud of being different from Americans. But theÂ U.S. election playedÂ a surprisingly big role during the French campaign this year.Â
It will be Trump vs. Obama this Sunday.
Or at least that’s how it seemed at times during the run-up to the final round of the French election.
Some Le Pen supporters have embraced President Trump as their role model, even wearing Trump T-shirts at Le Pen rallies.
Meanwhile, supporters of Macron have portrayed their candidate as the French equivalent of Obama: young, enthusiastic and optimistic about the way forward for an economically distressed nation. SuchÂ comparisons are of course flawed (Le Pen and Trump disagree on a number of issues; Macron had a hard time mobilizingÂ even his core voters), but it is a surprising side note in a rather U.S.-skeptical nation.
Even far-leftistÂ candidate Jean-Luc MÃ©lenchon was portrayedÂ by hisÂ supporters as the French Bernie Sanders. But are such comparisons driven byÂ real similarities or by political strategy?Â âPeople like to portray us as the bad communists, but Bernie SandersÂ is seen in a much more positive way,â MÃ©lenchon campaign member Luc Weinstein, 27, explainedÂ to me in Paris.
For MÃ©lenchon, the strategy paid off to some extent: He doubled the number of his supporters within weeks â but still failed to make it to the second round.
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