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May 06 2017
by Ashmita Roy

Why College Students Should Care About the French Election

By Ashmita Roy - May 06 2017

In the past, French politics have always been a battle between the Socialist party of the moderate lefts and the Republican party of the moderate rights. This year, however, the French political scene has been turned on its head. This year the election is between an independent party called En Marche, headed by Emmanuel Macron, and a far-right party, headed by Marine Le Pen.

The sitting French president, President François Hollande, is a major reason for this sudden shift. Under his government, unemployment rates increased, and Hollande said a lot of things that someone in his position should not say. He essentially offended every political party and viewpoint in France, and thus, his approval rating by December of 2016 was at a mere 4 percent.

In this year's election, Macron’s party is defined by more leftist economic views and its commitment to the European Union. In addition to this, social tolerance is a major theme brought to the forefront of the En Marche party. These ideas appeal to moderates as well as more left-leaning voters.

Le Pen’s party, The National Front, was founded by her father in the 1970s and has a focus on “France for the French." Sound familiar? Its stance is a protection of French identity and values. Le Pen attributes recent violence and social chaos in France to immigrants, allowing the immense anti-immigrant backlash in France to work in her favor.

A recent study shows that the European immigration crisis has a large impact on support for the far-right. The greater the fear of a socioeconomic crisis due to the acceptance of immigrants, the greater the likelihood of that voter supporting the far-right.

Macron has a lot of support from the mainstream French candidates. Macron seems to have a good chance of winning the next round, as he pulls ahead of Le Pen by 26 points. To compare, Clinton was ahead of Trump by two to three points. Hence it seems he is more likely to win.

The French election is not only a big deal for France but a big deal for the world. France’s place in the European Union at stake, and so is the European Union as we know it. Le Pen wants France to withdraw from the EU, and since France is a key player in the EU, this would send the EU into even more of a strange limbo. With Brexit and potentially losing France, European politics are driving further and further into instability.

Not only that, but Le Pen’s election would mean potentially ending French sanctions with Russia. She wants “to energize an alliance between the U.S., France and Russia in the fight against Islamists, which is a gigantic menace to our respective democracies." This could mean a lot of trouble for the Muslim community around the word, as rising Islamophobia in the Americas and in Europe is creating a more treacherous climate for the Muslim community. Agreements between three major countries with far-right leaders could result in potentially disastrous outcomes for marginalized communities such as more restrictions with respect to traveling and immigration. Not to mention, the Muslim community in France is already victim to severe Islamophobia, so this heightened Islamophobic sentiment could especially endanger them.

For college students specifically, France is a popular place to study abroad. The results of this election could heavily affect the policies allowing for students to stay and study abroad. Some students might be robbed of opportunities to study in France depending on religion, race, immigration status, etc. A win for Le Pen could also mean that if students are able to study abroad, they may be faced with discrimination due to rising tensions in the country. 

This election seems all too familiar — an uncomfortably close rerun of the recent U.S. election. The parallels are all too clear, so we can only hope that France makes the right decision. 

Lead Image Credit: Redaksi Indonesia via Flickr Creative Commons

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Ashmita Roy - University of Toronto

Ashmita is a freshman at University of Toronto, majoring in equity studies and women and gender studies. She enjoys self-deprecating humour, musical theatre, singing, and dogs. She is an exceptionally average beatboxer and an exceptionally talented tea-drinker. Her twitter is @ashmitaroy_

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