An observer from North America trying to analyze the French presidential elections would probably be bewildered to discover that among the 10 candidates in the first round, three were Trotskyites advocating a Leninist revolution ; a disciple of Lyndon La Rouche ; a former Norwegian judge who appears to think she is an environmental Robespierre (Eva Joly) ; a populist from the extreme right (Marine Le Pen) ; a moderate who would find his place in the left wing of the American Democratic Party (François Bayrou) ; a Gaullist speaking as if it were still 1965 (Nicolas Dupont Aignan) ; a very « socialist » Socialist (François Hollande), and the outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy, a Bonapartist who, in the UK, would be to the left of the Labour Party.
The observer would then be appalled to hear that no candidate defended free-market principles ; that all of the candidates harshly attacked the financial world, multinational corporations, and globalization; that, of the two finalists, one is the outgoing President who was rejected by a large proportion of the population, and who for five years ruled without any clear direction; and that the other finalist is a Socialist whose program appears to have been written before the development of the Internet. He would be even more appalled by seeing that, faced with this distressful choice, the French population seemed to want to turn to the Socialist candidate, even knowing that he is supported by the Trotskyists and the Norwegian judge.
Moreover, after learning that the populist (Le Pen)'s program was written by people from the most nationalist wing of the Socialist Party, came in third, he would wonder how this country can still be one of the major world economies. He would not be wrong.
France is very sick indeed. It remains relatively prosperous, but it is a country in sharp decline.
France's problems date from long before the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. France is a deeply sclerotic country where no budget has been balanced since 1974, and where public expenditures have risen continuously in recent decades to represent a crippling 56% of its gross domestic product -- the highest figure in the developed world. It is a country whose public debt is growing far faster than the public debt of its main economic partners in Europe, and will hit 87% of GDP this year (actually 146%, if what France owes to the European Union is included). It is a country where reports on the inevitable failure of pension systems were presented to successive governments for over 25 years without a decision being proposed or taken. It is a country where the unemployment rate has remained around 10% for 40 years as if that situation were normal ; and where the number of people living in poverty is between eight and ten million out of a population of 65 million. It is also a country where, for over 40 years, more than half of those entering university exited without any qualifications, and where two-thirds of all higher education diplomas are worthless on the labor market. Graduates with Master's degree become fast-food servers or cashiers in a supermarket -- if a position is available. It is a country where intellectual work has gradually lost all substance and feeds only the leftist libraries of the rest of the world. The latest of such French exports consists of «postmodern » theories elaborated by Michel Foucault or Jacques Derrida, and the writings of « specialists on Islam,» who asserted in 2000, that jihadis had disappeared.
Under Nicolas Sarkozy, the situation has worsened. None of the promises he made when he was elected has been kept, an oversight that could explain the feeling of distrust towards him by so many voters. Sarkozy's slogan in 2007 was "work more to earn more": in five years, discouraged by heavy taxation and regulation, labor productivity in France has only stagnated. Hundreds of companies have left the country; the reality now is that there are fewer jobs, and that purchasing power has deteriorated. The only actions taken by Sarkozy were embarrassingly insignificant : the legal age of retirement was increased from age 60 to age 62 -- cementing the current system in place as late as 2010 with just a two-to-three years' respite -- and the name of the social aid for the poorest was changed but not its operating mode.
Nicolas Sarkozy never tried to explain to the French people the economic and geopolitical changes taking place on the planet. He has confessed several times that he never read a book on economics – although you could have hoped that other people in the government might have -- another oversight that became more and more noticeable. A recently published survey shows that while in countries as diverse as China, the United States, Germany and India, the number of people who understand the virtues of the market economy is significantly higher than 60%, the figure for France falls to 31%.
Besides Sarkozy's incompetence, one factor that aggravates the situation in France is the ever more technocratic functioning of the unelected, undemocratic European Union, and, since 2008, the European single-currency's difficulties – exactly the same problems convulsing other European nations.
The « stability pact» developed a few weeks ago under the auspices of Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is supposed to save the system and avoid its implosion. It is based tax increases combined with decreases in public spending. In countries already on the verge of collapse, such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, the « Pact » has only intensified an already strong recession, and caused riots and strikes. The French population, apparently concerned that its fate could soon be the same as its southern neighbors', expressed its revolt by the ballot. Because no relevant explanation was ever given, the French population adheres massively to speeches which say that « Brussels cannot dictate everything from above, » and that increasing state spending, and making the rich pay for it, will solve all problems.
On May 6th, the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, who constantly used this kind of speech during the campaign, will probably be elected President. Voters' disillusionment will soon follow, with consequences impossible to predict. The main Trotskyist candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who received 12% of the votes, has repeatedly called for Chavez-style insurrection.
If, as it seems likely, Nicolas Sarkozy is defeated, his party will probably implode. This is what Marine Le Pen expects; she apparently wants, on the ruins of the President's party, to build a « nationalist right .» She proposes to leave the European Union and the euro, and erect high protectionist trade barriers.
One theme that has been almost absent from the entire election campaign is Islam and Islamization. Only Marine Le Pen has spoken of it. Even though she was always careful to distinguish Islam and « radical Islam, » she was immediately called a « racist. »
Slightly over a month has passed since the worst series of jihadists' crimes -- and the worst anti-Semitic acts since the Second World War -- were committed in France, but this seems already to have been forgotten. In the main mosques in France, and just before the first round of the election, Imams have been making explicit appeals to vote for François Hollande.
The evolution of the rest of Europe was almost never evoked, or only in a very negative way, or only by Marine Le Pen and the Trotskyite candidates.
The day after the first round of the French presidential election, the Dutch governing coalition fell: its fall came from the refusal by Geert Wilders's Freedom Party to accept the recessionary consequences of the « stability pact .»
In Spain, the conservative Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, recently expressed a barely concealed desire to break free of the « pact . » Spain has experienced negative growth for over three years ; its unemployment rate is above 24%, and 52% among workers under 25 years of age.
In Greece, where the situation is far worse than in Spain, elections will also be held on May 6th; the parties that have every chance of winning in Greece also advocate a refusal of the « Pact .»
François Hollande has said he will not ratify the « Pact » and has vowed to tame financial markets and Germany. If distrust of France subsides, the financial markets will remind the Netherlands that they exist and that they are not so easy to tame. Angela Merkel will also remind the Netherlands that she exists, and that the opinion of the German people matters.
No one can answer if the euro will survive to the end of the year, or what will remain in a few years of the feckless, undemocratic, unelected European Union.
Turbulences are emerging throughout Europe; France will likely play a role in worsening them.