Francois Hollande’s decision to pull out of the French Presidential race was logical in light of his catastrophically low ratings, with some opinion polls putting his support at just 4%.
It is difficult however to see this decision as being not at least in part a desperate attempt to save the current French and EU consensus on Russia and on social issues.
In terms of French liberal and EU orthodoxy Francois Fillon – the candidate of France’s centre-right – though obviously far preferable to Marine Le Pen, is nonetheless an alarming prospect.
The problem is not with his economic policies, which like Sarkozy’s previously in practice are likely to fall well short of their free market promise, but with his conservative Catholic position on social questions, and his strong support for a rapprochement with Russia.
To see just how alarmed the French neoliberal consensus is by Fillon, consider this extraordinary article in the Guardian by the French neoliberal commentator Natalie Nougayrède, with its ominous title “François Fillon is as big a threat to liberal values as Marine Le Pen”.
The single thing which comes across most vividly from Nougayrède’s article is its marked hostility to traditional Christianity, with Nougayrède obviously considering traditional Christianity incompatible with liberal values – an idea an earlier generation of Western liberals would have found completely astounding. Consider for example this comment in her article
“There is now a threat from a new type of reactionary movement. Anyone who thinks that Fillon’s success clears the ground for a resounding defeat of far-right ideas in France’s 2017 presidential race should think again. Fillon’s most active support base has come essentially from hardline, traditionalist Catholics…..
European liberal democrats tend to worry about the danger coming from far-right would-be autocrats – but that’s not the full picture. The rise of ultra-conservative religious, Christian movements must now be looked at more closely. In France, pundits and parts of the media were caught off-guard by it”.
Natalie Nougayrède would not of course be herself if she did not drag in Western neoliberals’ habitual bête noire – Russian President Vladimir Putin – into this ominous picture.
“Further east on the continent, that religious and reactionary line of thought has long been prominent in Vladimir Putin’s Russia – a regime in tight alliance with the Orthodox church……. It is no coincidence that Fillon was publicly lauded by Putin. This wasn’t just because the Kremlin hopes to find a French presidential ally on foreign policy. It’s also because Putin detects in Fillon streaks of his own ultra-conservative ideology.”
Note the conflation of the words “religious”, “Christian” and “reactionary” in this and the preceding paragraph. Regardless, the misrepresentation – or misunderstanding – of Putin, who though unquestionably a deeply religious man certainly cannot be called any sort of “reactionary” (any more than Francois Fillon can) is breathtaking.
That Hollande fundamentally shares these views has been repeatedly shown by his actions; for example by his decision to pick the face of the Ukrainian Femen activist Inna Shevchenko to represent the new Marianne image for French stamps shortly after Shevchenko was granted political asylum in France after using a chainsaw to cut down a five-meter Christian cross near Maidan Square in Kiev.
By stepping aside – presumably on behalf of his Prime Minister Manuel Valls – Hollande seems to be hoping to create space for a candidate who unlike Fillon and Le Pen can defend the current orthodoxy with at least some prospect – however remote – of success.
France can look forward to a highly interesting Presidential election in 2017.
Marine Le Pen, drawing increasing support from working class voters with an anti-immigrant, anti-elite, anti-globalisation and anti-EU appeal, is pitted against Francois Fillon, the leader of traditional Catholic France – of France profonde – who is in turn likely to be pitted against Manuel Valls, the likely leader of cosmopolitan, Paris centred, sophisticated, neoliberal France.
Each of these candidates represents an important and powerful stream of thought in modern French society. It will be interesting to see which one of them prevails. Of course it will also be of huge importance for the world.