France: Saved From the Abyss?
France: Saved From the Abyss?
When the results hit the headlines, people across the world sighed in relief. Disaster was averted. Extremism had been defeated. On May 7, the people of France had stepped away from the brink of pitching the European Union into utter turmoil by awarding a landslide victory in the presidential elections to Emmanuel Macron, over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
It was the second big European election in two months, and in many ways, the result was the same. In the Netherlands in March, the party of Geert Wilders—widely viewed as an extremist—took second place to that of a more mainstream candidate, Mark Rutte, for the prime ministership.
In both these cases, however, to characterize what happened as a defeat for extremists—as has been done in the mainstream press—is to miss the lesson entirely.
These formerly fringe parties—though not yet claiming majority support—are rising in dramatic fashion. This is a symptom of much deeper problems facing Europe. And these problems—unlike the torn-up posters in rubbish bins along the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré reading “Le Pen in 2017”—are not going away.
Less Popular Than Clovis the Lazy
It is already clear that French politics is in crisis. Former President François Hollande at one point saw his approval rating mired at a dismal 4 percent, making him the most unpopular leader in France’s history. Granted, in the days of French leaders like Clovis the Lazy, Charles the Fat, or Philip the Amorous, there were no opinion polls; if there were, giving a pollster the “wrong answer” would probably have gotten you killed. Still, it’s hard to imagine even Louis the Stammerer faring worse than poor President Hollande.
Meanwhile, neither of France’s two main parties got their candidates to the second round of the French election. That is almost as major an event as both Republicans and Democrats losing a general election in the United States.
What we are seeing in France goes far beyond ordinary political dissatisfaction. It is reaching revolutionary levels.
“[T]he French are discussing whether their country’s institutions have maneuvered themselves into a pre-revolutionary plight as a result of the continued incompetence of public officials,” wrote Der Spiegel. “They wonder whether today’s state is, in fact, more similar to the monarchy of old—to the rotten Ancien Régime shortly before the French Revolution. …
“It is no accident that this election includes a number of candidates who are calling for the abolition of the French Republic in its current form and the creation of a new constitution” (April 15).
Macron’s landslide victory does not fix this.
He won not so much because people like him, but because they wanted to block Le Pen. Only 24 percent said they thought Macron has the stuff to be president. One rallying cry was, “Neither Macron nor Le Pen.” Another was, “Neither cholera nor the plague.”
The real test for Macron will come on June 11 and 18, in France’s parliamentary elections. Macron leads a brand new party, En Marche!, which he founded just last year. For a political party to go from just bursting into existence to achieving a parliamentary majority in little more than a year seems an impossible task.
It’s more than likely that Macron will begin his presidency without parliamentary support, and confronted with monumental challenges.
Perhaps the record Hollande set for unpopularity won’t last long.
Half-Pregnancy and Other Troubles
Consider the troubles waiting on Macron’s desk his first day as president.
France is saddled with major economic problems. Its unemployment rate is over 10 percent—close to the highest level in 35 years. (By contrast, Germany’s unemployment rate is under 4 percent.) Among French young people looking for a job, 1 in 4 can’t get work. France’s economy is barely growing, and during the second quarter last year it actually shrank.
There is a simple solution to this—the one Britain and America have taken: borrow and spend. Ballooning debts tend to get rid of the immediate headaches. The trouble is, they contribute to even bigger problems in the future.
The problem here is the euro. Eurozone rules limit the amount the government can borrow each year, and France is already maxed out. This has triggered a backlash against the euro. In the first round of the election, a staggering 48 percent of French voters chose parties that want to take France out of the euro. Italy is in a similar situation. If this growing proportion of the people in either of these countries gets its way, the eurozone is in major trouble.
This predicament stems from a more fundamental problem. Sharing a currency means sharing sovereignty. The French, Spanish, Greeks and other Europeans are understandably upset when the Germans want to curb their spending. After all, why should another nation tell their governments what to do? At the same time, the Germans are understandably upset that other countries are accumulating debt. After all, their debt directly affects Germany’s economy. Germans want to make sure their own taxpayer money doesn’t go to bailing out other countries that are drowning in debt.
This conflict of interests is simply inherent in the nature of a currency union. Europeans were never informed of the true cost of joining the eurozone, and they never approved it. But they are stuck in it—for now.
Macron has a two-step solution, and neither step is easy. The first is to revise France’s convoluted labor laws and taxes.
“The labyrinthine legal system has 400,000 business norms and regulations, with 360 separate taxes, some pre-dating the French Revolution,” wrote the Telegraph’sinternational business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (May 9).
“As the saying goes, it takes three days to fire somebody in London, three months in Switzerland, and three years in Paris,” said Jean-Frédéric de Leusse, head of ubs in France. “It may be an exaggeration, but it is probably quite close to reality.”
French governments have typically confronted new challenges with knee-jerk reactions that address effects and never causes. For example, the government feared that bookshops were going bust because they couldn’t compete with online book retailer Amazon. Instead of undertaking a study of why brick-and-mortar businesses were failing, it simply outlawed free delivery. Amazon responded by charging one euro cent for delivery. The entire economy is held back by thousands of such useless regulations.
But these regulations are popular, and Macron will probably not have a mandate or support in Parliament to change them.
His second line of attack is at the EU level. Macron has criticized the eurozone in its current form for being like a “half-pregnancy”: It cannot exist as it is—it must be all or nothing. Macron wants all: closer cooperation, a eurozone treasury, a eurozone finance minister, and eurozone nations handing over chunks of their tax revenues.
Macron is proposing the right technical solution, and it could well be the solution the EU ultimately accepts. But it is a rough road from here to there. With the EU in its current form, it would mean Germany agreeing to subsidize poorer countries like Greece—forever. The only way Germany could possibly agree to subsidize the eurozone is if it gets to control the eurozone. This is exactly the same conflict that has played out year after year in Greece—except that here, it is spread over the whole of Europe. And it is a conflict where neither side can give ground easily.
If Macron does manage to get a majority in Parliament in June, he could take strides to reform France’s economy, and possibly even gain popular support for a deal with Germany—a deal that would turn Europe into a superstate.
However, if, as is far likelier, this doesn’t happen, problems in France and in the EU will get worse and economic crises will continue. In that case, the time is likely to come that EU nations are forced to create this superstate.
The Muslim Crisis
On April 20, Karim Cheurfi shoved his AK-47 through the window of a police van on France’s Champs-Elysees and pulled the trigger. At the same time, France’s presidential candidates were holding their final debates before the first round of elections.
It was a sad but appropriate end to the presidential campaign. The nation has been under a state of emergency since November 2015. During that time, Muslim terrorists have killed 240 people. “[I]t is no longer extraordinary to observe armed military patrols weaving among the hordes of fanny-packed, selfie-stick-wielding tourists below the Eiffel Tower. Similarly, an army squad with weapons drawn on the Renaissance-era Cours Mirabeau in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence on Wednesday hardly drew a single turned head from the scores of café revelers enjoying the shaded sidewalk terraces,” wrote the Daily Signal. “[T]he French people have adapted to living with the terror threat and the state’s protective measures against it as a part of life’s normal background din” (May 4).
Macron has no solution. At that debate—the night a Paris police officer was murdered by a man with a Koran in his car, a note praising the Islamic State in his pocket, and an automatic rifle in his hands—Macron admitted that France will have to live with terrorist attacks “for years to come.”
But terrorism is not something you can ignore and hope it will go away.
Meanwhile, Europe’s immigration problem will also worsen. “The crisis most likely to overwhelm Europe in the coming years and bring populist or nationalist leaders like Marine Le Pen to power is an uncontrollable rise in immigration from Africa and the Middle East,” warned former British Foreign Minister William Hague (Telegraph, May 9).
“In the corridors of Brussels and other capitals much time is spent on this issue,” he continued, “but always to find sticking plaster solutions, such as buying Turkish cooperation rather than a long-term strategy. …
“Left to develop, the future migration crisis is the one that will break the Schengen zone, the EU, and the mainstream leadership of Europe. There is no sign yet that enough action is being taken to avert it. Macron should add preparing for this to his list of what needs to be done. If not, the populists, including Marine Le Pen, will be back with a vengeance.”
These are problems Macron openly admits he has no solution for. And they have already led to widespread dissatisfaction in France, dissatisfaction deep enough to motivate 10.6 million French to vote for Le Pen.
Where Europe Will Be Tomorrow
France is suffering from the same problems hitting Western-style democracies around the world. All have their problems with radical Islam. All have the stubborn tendency to vote for social policies that they cannot afford. Just about all are struggling with their own political upstarts and extremists, both from the left and the right.
But across the eurozone, the situation is uniquely bad. Leaders lack the power to fix the problems, even if they have solutions. France’s economy and borders are beyond its control, and its inability to solve these crises makes the political crisis worse.
Clearly, Europe’s crises will drag on.
This is not just a French problem. Italy has spent the last few years desperately avoiding elections for fear that a vote would cause the euro to melt down. Greece causes a panic every time it holds one. Even the Netherlands—far outside the southern European danger zone—caused the world to hold its breath in March when anti-EU populist politician Geert Wilders made a strong run for the prime minister’s office.
But where is this taking Europe?
Europe’s world is changing fast. It used to be able to rely on America to protect it and keep the peace in its neighborhood. At the same time, Europe’s political system is crumbling. And no one has a solution.
Democracy has often proved vulnerable, and in Europe it is only decades old. It is already clear that what was once unthinkable was recently a close call—and in the immediate future remains a strong possibility.
The Bible gives the same warning about Europe. In his booklet A Strong German Leader Is Imminent, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes: “Daniel 8 is one of the most astonishing prophecies in the Bible, and we need to understand it.”
He quotes the last part of verse 17, which gives the time frame of the prophecy: “for at the time of the end shall be the vision.” Then in verse 19, it gets even more specific: “And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation.” “He not only talks about the end time, but God wants us to realize the urgency of this,” Mr. Flurry writes. “This is the last end—the end of the end time! Daniel was written only for the end time (Daniel 12:4, 9). God wants us to become urgent about this.”
Now notice Daniel 8:23, which describes a strong leader who is about to arise in Europe: “And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.”
“God calls this leader ‘a king,’” Mr. Flurry writes. “This soon-coming ruler could literally be called a king. Even if he is not, the Bible gives him that label. When the Bible talks about a king, in most cases it’s saying that this is not a democratic government. Even if he doesn’t have that title, he is going to lead like a king. This vision in Daniel shows that the European empire is about to become a lot more authoritative.”
You can see in Daniel 11:21 that this leader will come to power “by flatteries.” That means “probably not by votes, but through a coalition government of some kind,” Mr. Flurry writes. “We need to watch Germany and Europe carefully. Although Bible prophecy gives us the outline of how it will unfold, we don’t know the details.”
This is where Europe’s crisis is leading. It will build and build until Europe’s current political system is destroyed.