Gael de Santis: Independent France or EU is not enough, they must be social

Cross-border Talks speaks to the international editor of the French left-wing journal l’Humanite about the recent French presidential elections, about the voters and the political style of Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon, about the ideas of independent and autonomous EU in international relations, French interests in Southeastern Europe and challenges in the second presidential term of Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron won the elections and received ovations together his wife Brigitte, but the very same night protests unfolded in France, which were supressed by police (source: YouTube)

Cross-border Talks speaks to the international editor of the French left-wing journal l’Humanite about the recent French presidential elections, about the voters and the political style of Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon, about the ideas of independent and autonomous EU in international relations, French interests in Southeastern Europe and challenges in the second presidential term of Emmanuel Macron

Veronika Susova-Salminen, Vladimir Mitev

Gael de Santis is a French left-wing journalist, who has written extensively on populism in the EU, European affairs, defense matters, etc. He has discussed with Cross-border Talks about the current fracture of the French political system into three large currents – center (Emmanuel Macron), left (Jean-Luc Melenchon) and extreme right (Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour and others). He observes polarization between rural and urban areas, between older people with more capital and working population. Even though Macron won with a good majority, a number of challenges for  him as tries to affirm France’s independent voice in international relations. 

De Santis believes that in spite of the war in Ukraine the economic interests of France and Germany make them look for cooperation with Russia. He also sees the idea of “a strategic autonomy” of the EU as one that could return to the EU’s agenda if the crisis in Ukraine ends within 1-2 years. When asked about France’s interests in Southeastern Europe, he recalled the French special connection with Romania. And added that Macron and French public opinion are interested in countering negative tendencies such as social dumping (cheap labour) and corruption, while also affirming an independent EU defense. 

Veronika Susova-Salminen: Hello, everybody. This is the next episode of Cross-border Talks. My name is Veronica Salminen, and today’s topic is the French presidential election. We already know the results. We know that the president of France for the next five years is going to be Emmanuel Macron. Marine Le Pen, his right wing populist challenger, was not able to beat him in this election. It was her third effort to become the president and her second effort in contesting with Emmanuel Macron. And since we know the results we would like, I would like to invite you to analyze them more properly, because the results itself of the first round and second round are already telling us something about the situation in France, which is changing. They are also telling us something about discontinuities and continuities of French politics. Also, it is important to have a look at the internal situation in France. France is also a very important international player. It is a very important member state of the European Union, still despite all problems, the second largest economy in the EU. So from this point of view, it is important also to understand what will probably mean Macron’s re-election or the international stance of France, what it will mean for the European Union, and of course particularly for the region of Central and Eastern Europe, and particularly in the changing and very dramatic context of war in Ukraine, which is changing a lot of things. I will just remind you that France has a specific position also thanks to the fact that it has a specific relation and position within NATO and also an ambivalent relation to the security concept atlanticism, which we could already see during Macron’s first presidency. I will ask my colleague Vladimir to introduce our guest now.

Vladimir Mitev: Yes. You emphasize on the word “important” and it’s important as well to discuss with people who can provide a knowledgeable perspective. So we have such an interlocutor. Gael de Santis is a foreign affairs journalist at l’Humanite, a leading left-wing journal in France. And he has written extensively on European affairs, populism, and a number of issues which we hopefully will touch in this discussion.

Gael de Santis: Thanks for the invitation.

Thank you for your time. And I would start the first round of questions connected with the entire internal situation in France in order to better understand the French context. I think it’s not so well understood and it’s also very much distorted by the mainstream media. 

We have seen again a repeat of the duel between Macron and Le Pen in the last round of the presidential election. I would like to ask you first question: could you tell us something about what type of politics these two figures actually represent within the French political context. I mean it in two senses. I mean it, of course, in the sense of a programme. What is the programme they offer to voters and then in the sense of style, of political style are offering. For example, about Macron, I read in the mainstream recently that his style is seductive. So this is the one characteristic I heard and on the other hand about Le Pen and her style, I heard a comparison with the style of former German Chancellor Merkel – not ideologically, but in the style. So could you please elaborate a bit more about these issues?

I will start with Marine Le Pen, since it is her third participation in presidential elections, and her second one against Emmanuel Macron. But it’s also the 8th time when the National Front, which has been renamed Rassemblement National, is present in presidential elections. And it is the third time, the first one being in 2002, that they are present in the second round of French presidential elections. 

I will say a word about the French electoral system. In the first round, you vote, you choose who is the best candidate for you, even though then you have a strategic vote and in the second round you only have the two winners of the first round. So three times in 2002, 2017, and 2022 Le Pen family – her father and now her – got present in the second round.

National Front is traditionally a party which has been created in the 60s to gather different families of extreme right Petainism, which recalls to the authorities under German occupation and neo-Nazis – you had former Waffen SS as the foundation of the party. They are not there anymore, but there are monarchists, you had some integrist Catholics. They gathered different families of the far right, which were fighting together between each other. They have been together since the 60s. And it became an important political force in the 80s during the first presidency of the socialist Francois Mitterrand.

It was the first time since the 40s when left-wing forces were present in the government in France and because of neoliberal policies their political force diluted in a part of the electorate. So it assisted the rise of the extreme right. This was and is still xenophobic party, fighting against the right of LGBT people. The fact is when they decided to change, not to have any more Jean-Marie Le Pen, but to have with his daughter, Marine Le Pen, there has been a change, let’s say, they became more polite. It was what we call dediabolisation of the Rassmeblemont National. She insists on the past of the party which is Petainist. They changed the name. She cares really a lot less about the migration issues. She doesn’t need to because people who are interested in these migration issues vote for the National Front, but they speak about something else.

One of the core issues in this presidential election was purchasing power. And so she tried to speak to the employees, to the working class, speaking about wages and so on, to have a social agenda, which was not the case in the 80s, where she wanted to privatize the pension system, when she wanted to privatize the companies. So, in the name of sovereignty, she says, yes, we need to favor the national bourgeoisie.

You were referring to Angela Merkel, who is called Mutti in Germany. This is interesting because in the debate with Emmanuel Macron, the second round Marine Le Pen said: ”I want to protect you.” So she has a way to protect the people, which is not the left-wing way of protecting the people. Because when you had, for instance, the demonstrations against the reform of the pension system, she was against the reform. She said she was against the reform of the pension system, but she was also against the demonstrations. She is always against the rights of trade unions, which are necessary to fight the neoliberal reforms.

At the core of the project there is a total defiance about trade unions. She has said she has changed about that, but still they don’t want to give any more rights to workers. If they agree on some net of protection, it is never given because of the workers movement and so on.

So the idea for her is still a cooperation between social classes, and the idea is still that this cooperation should not take or remove power for the ruling class. She just represents more the fraction of the bourgeoisie which is less international and so on. She says protection. But then still you cannot compare her to Mutti. During the Syrian crisis, Le Pen said she was against the arrival of migrants and the repatriation of migrants and so on. And what is interesting with the Ukrainian war is that she also tried to change this image saying, oh, I am in favor of welcoming Ukrainians. But this is less of a problem for them, because they are Christian, because they have the same culture like us and so on.

Still, she pretends to be social, but when you look at the vote of Rassemblement National in the European Parliament, they are against women’s rights, against LGBT people rights, but they are also against removing the power of multinationals. There have been some text approved in European Parliament thanks to the Left and the Socialists and the Greens saying that a multinational should be responsible for what happens, let’s say, in Bangladesh, when they don’t respect the environment issue, when they don’t respect the social rights and democratic rights of workers. And the National Front were against, saying that the multinationals, a transnational company, should be responsible for the people who are working for them in a foreign country. So they want to make a safety net for French workers, but they never want to take power away from the ruling ruling class.

Emmanuel Macron… I understand that it’s complicated from a foreign point of view, because it’s also complicated for us. Emmanuel Macron was a former minister of finance of Francois Hollande. Francois Hollande was the last socialist and the last left wing president in France. Macron was from the, let’s say, the right of the Socialist Party. And since Francois Hollande didn’t represent him, he reached to create this party, En Marche. And in 2017 half of Francois Hollande’s electorate from 2012 voted for Emmanuel Macron. So Emmanuel Macron, basically, he had half of the socialist voters plus some people on the right. He became the president of France in the context of three main political families, the left around Jean-Luc Melenchon, the center around Macron, the right around Fillon and the extreme right around Marine Le Pen. The problem with that was during the mandate it started to make real rightwing policies so more and more attracted people from the right and some people from the left went elsewhere, returned to the left or went to the abstention. 

Now we have a situation with these three partitions of the electorate. The right wing is basically now Macron, even though he kept one third of the socialist electorate from 2012. You have the left with Jean-Luc Mélenchon and you have the extreme right with Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Zemmour, which is even more extremist. 

So Emmanuel Macron represents the international capital. See the kind of capital he defends, for instance. We have a strong attachment to the fact that you own your house in France. So you have a lot of people that own two, three, four, five, six houses. And it’s a way of saving money. He has made a reform of the wealth tax. Before, if you have a patrimony of more than €1 million, for instance, you would pay 1%. He removed this stuff. And he made a tax only for people who own land or houses. And you remove this tax on the wealth of people if it was invested into action and so on. So let’s say he is for the capital that invests, the idea of a Start-up Nation. If you have capital, you should invest in the companies and not in the land or in houses. So he tries to make the capital of France more competitive and also with the workers. That’s why he has made particularly harsh reforms on labor during the mandate of Francois Hollande and also during his own mandate.

Let’s say that before Emmanuel Macron the representatives of the bourgeoisie, were right-wing politicians. But they have the filter of the right. They were discussing it on the local level. So they accepted the safety net, social stuff. Emmanuel Macron has never done politics before he became the minister of Finance. So it’s really the bourgeoisie that is ruling without an intermediary. So that’s why the policy elite is always the pure policy of the bourgeoisie without this idea of the right that they should mediate in order there is no social disturbance and so on. So even the former right-wing was more social than Emmanuel Macron. He is really the representative of the bourgeoisie without intermediary  – a bourgeois himself. Before he was a minister, he was a banker.

We have to focus more precisely on the voters, on the voters of Macron and the voters of Le Pen. You already touched on this in a few of these situations. But what you are telling us now is that actually neither of them is representing some kind of real alternative, alternative for the people of work. We don’t need to call them working class. We can call them people who are making their living by working. So in this sense, it is clear why the alternative for Le Pen is becoming Macron, unfortunately. But could you tell us something more about core voters? I know in the second round these are not the core voters, as you already mentioned. You said so clearly that you have to select from these two possibilities, which could be worse even for you. But in general, if you look at the core voters of these two politicians, how do they look?

Yeah, we have a problem in France. I haven’t mentioned it, but it has a link with your question. For the first time in history, the extreme right has more votes than the whole left. Because if you add the votes of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which is from France Insoumise of Fabien Roussel, who is communist, of Yannick Jaddot, who is Green, and Anne Hidalgo, who is a socialist, and the two little Trotskyist candidates you make 32%, while the extreme right between Le Pen and and the more and the point is making 33% or 34%. So let’s say that’s a problem because when you look at the first round, if you look at the category of employees and industry workers, you have 26% for Jean-Luc Melenchon on the left and 34% for Marine Le Pen. But you should have added the 6% of Eric Zemmour, which makes a total of 40%. And if you had Nicola Dupont-Aignan, you go to 42%. So in the popular classes, employees and industry workers, you have 25% or 26% of people who refrain from voting and abstain. And among those who are voting, you have 40%, 45% who are voting for the extreme right. So the left-wing is only maybe 32% or 33%. That’s really an important issue because if you see the popular vote, there is only 18% of it that goes to Emmanuel Macron, but he wins the elections.

Let’s say the popular vote is divided between an extreme right that won’t go to the government and a left, which is more anti-liberal left. This was not the case in 2012. It is not possible with 32 to 33% to go into government. So that’s one point. At the popular classes we have a really good result of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and quite a good result of the left, which had 27% last time and more than 31% this time among the popular classes. But they are represented more by the extreme right and abstention than they are represented by the left. When you look at Emmanuel Macron, and I refer now to the first round because as you said in the second round the problem is that I’ve been voting for Emmanuel Macron because I didn’t want the extreme right in government, even though I don’t stand for Emmanuel Macron. I have been in a lot of demonstrations against him and my newspaper has been fighting his policies for five years-  and asking people to vote for him for two weeks between the two rounds, because we are an antifascist newspaper and we don’t want the extreme right to come to power.

But when you have a look at the first round, Emmanuel Macron is very strong among older people in the first round. It makes 39% of the people 65 years old and more than 39%. It can be explained because there is a need for security, police and so on, but also because they have a capital to defend. But when you look at the working ages, he is making between 21 %and 25%. So only one fourth of the people that are in age to work are voting for Emmanuel Macron while you have between 21% and 36% for Jean-Luc Mélenchon and between 18% and 26% for Marine Le Pen. And you can add 5% or 7%. So we have a problem: when you look in the first and second round among the people who work, either they are engineer or working class people, the first party is either Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the left or Marine Le Pen. Macron is basically elected a lot by people who are 65 years old. And when you look at the kind workers, he is strong among superior classes of workers. For instance he makest there 34% while he made 27% in the general population. But if you look at popular categories, he makes only 18%. Jean-Luc Melenchone is going with more than 20-25% everywhere. And Marine Le Pen, she’s very strong in popular classes but she’s making good results also among the shopkeepers or little entrepreneurs. At the higher earners and superior classes she makes only 14%. This kind of working people are open to international space, because of the kind of their job. When you are working in industry at the level of engineer, you have links with other countries. As we know, the chain of production is worldwide and workers cannot remain under only one country. So mainly you in short this situation is that Emmanuel Macron is a candidate of the rich and the working people are divided between the extreme right and and the left. And one particular thing. Normally, among the women the extreme right was making less than the general population. We have a problem now that women are overrepresented in the extreme right vote. And this is because of Marine Le Pen, the fact that they have chosen women to represent the extreme right ideas.

There is one more aspect to discuss. I know that Le Pen is quite popular in the regions which are in the north and also in Paris there was division in the districts of Paris. So is this regional dimension important?

It is really important. That is also a problem for the future of the left. Marine Le Pen is performing quite well in the north-east of the country. These are popular areas. And in the metropolis, in the big cities, you had a vote on the first round with Jean-Luc Melenchon, which was very strong. I mean, it’s more than 30%. This has been really quite impressive.

So you have two extremes, the rural territories where Marine Le Pen is going strong. That doesn’t mean she makes 80%. It means that she makes 30%. So you still have left there and you still have Macron voters. But the main political force there is the extreme right. While in the metropolis, you had Jean-Luc Melenchon and Emmanuel Macron in the middle. So you had the map in red and blue. But the one which is in the center, you could see it less in the electoral map. But since he is present both in the metropolis and in the rural areas, he managed to make 27% or 28% in the first round. But you have a really polarization of the voters. This also creates polarization among the working class. In the cities, they vote for the left, because they are used to seeing foreigners as their walking partners and they don’t have any problem with it. And also the main strong part, an important part of the workers are in the metropolis. These are people with a foreign background, while in other zones they vote for the extreme right. So that accentuates also this divide between the rural territories and metropolis. This is quite an important problem for us from a left-wing perspective.

Final question related to this topic is, of course, now that France is awaiting the legislative election, meaning parliamentary elections in June 2022. And the results of this election will definitely in some way, in many ways influence the possibilities of Emmanuel Macron since the political system of France is built like this. So what about this? How much is expected? We, of course, know that it’s difficult to guess, but the general trends are there. So based on these general trends or to not to expect related to these parliamentary elections.

So first, we have to explain to the people what our kind of electoral system, which exists only in France and in the African countries where we have exported this non-democratic system in legislative elections. We have 577 constituencies. There are two rounds. On the first one, everyone can present himself as he/she chooses. And in the second round you choose between two or three or four candidates. So mainly it will be with two candidates. But in case you make up more than 12.5% of the people who are registered voters, you can go in the second round. It’s quite rare because half of those people won’t go to vote in legislative elections. The abstention will be really quite high.

We had a problem in 2017 when Jean-Luc Melenchone made 19% in the first round of the presidential election. But he made only 11% in the legislative election because he had the strategic vote that wouldn’t go for him. And there was not an agreement between the French Communist Party and France Insoumise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, because he wanted to have all the gain for him. So there was a split for the legislative election. He made only 11% at the parliamentary elections, down from the 19% in the presidential election. He was able to make only 17 out of the 577 members of Parliament. It happened because in some areas the left-wing was divided. Its candidates were not present in the second round where they would have won. So the extreme right and En Marche – the party of Emmanuel Macron got in the second round. The left wing was not present. They would have won in the second round, but they were not present.

This time they are talking about unity. You might have 150 deputies from the left, maybe less, maybe more. Jean-Luc Melenchon is saying that he can be prime minister. He tries to mobilize the people who have voted for him in the first round, saying that if you disagree with Le Pen and disagree with Macron, there is a third round and unity can be achieved there so the left can win in a legislative election. Given that the legislative election goes just after the presidential election, the president has always had a majority for leading his policy since 2007. So you might have a majority for Emmanuel Macron.

 But since there was a lot of strategic voting rather than a vote of allegiance to Emmanuel Macron, it might not be as huge a majority as last time. First, because there will be more left-wing deputies elected because previously the left wing was not present in the second round in a lot of constituencies where it would have won and now it will be united. So this is a problem for them. And then on the right wing last time it was 20% for the candidate of the right, Francois Fillon, in presidential elections. This resulted in 100 parliamentary seats for the right-wing Les Republicains. It was the first party in parliament. This time the Republicans made only 4% on the presidential elections, so it will be hard for them. So you might have a lot of these constituencies that would go to the En march of Emmanuel Macron. But also if there is a union between Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen for the legislative election… today they have some ten members of parliament. They might have more and have a group in the French parliament. And this will be a problem because last time in 2017, there were a lot of social issues.

Since the left was the only one to have members of Parliament in the Parliament, they represented the social opposition to Emmanuel Macron. If the extreme right is present with a group in parliament, they will be able much more to speak and represent the people, so they might be the ones that are leading the opposition. This will be a real problem.

That’s why also in the legislative election, it will be important that the extreme right have as few members of Parliament as possible. And this is one of the issues. So we might see more left wing parliamentary, less traditional, right-wing parliamentary and more extreme right parliamentary. Then we’ll see what kind of parliamentary system you will have for Emmanuel Macron. Before they were coming from different points in the political spectrum. We will see whether they come from the right-wing or from the right-wing current of the Socialist Party. So that will also be a point. Will the party of Emmanuel Macron represent a creature of the right wing of the Socialist Party, or will it be more in the hand of the traditional right? That’s one of the questions that we’ll have to see after the election and when we’ll see the nomination.

Macron’s re-election is of international importance. And he was known in his first term as a promoter of the idea for strategic autonomy of the European Union, which was seen as an alternative, or how can I say different idea from the euroatlanticist current in the European Union. In comparison to the previous elections, now there is a Brexit, Biden has replaced Trump and there is war in Ukraine. So what will be the importance of relations with Germany? What will be the European policy and the international policy guidelines for the second term of Macron?

There is one thing which Emmanuel Macron was liked by the French a lot, and he was not criticized for it, with the exception of Socialists and the Green, who were ready for war. It was the fact that he was discussing with Vladimir Putin and trying to achieve an end to hostilities. Macron didn’t succeed. But the fact that he is discussing with all the parties in the conflict taking part for the Ukrainian, the fact that he is still discussing with Vladimir Putin… People liked it and it also helped for his election. Also because they liked it, because it’s important to speak with everybody to make peace. People understand that.

 Also, traditionally in France, we have what we call De Gaulle-Mitterrand doctrine, which comes from presidents de Gaulle and Mitterrand. The idea would be that France, either its right or left- wing government, should have a particular voice in the international conservative of the nation and should not always follow what is said by the extreme right. It transfers also to the needs of the French entrepreneurs and is also a class matter. This was really quite appreciated by the French.

 In the 80s and the 90s and at the beginning of the 2000, we have seen a new trend in French diplomacy, which was more philo-Atlanticist. And two years ago, in 2019, Emmanuel Macron criticized the fact that the French diplomats were not helping him because he had started his mandate, speaking with Putin, trying to bring Putin to the West in order to fight against China. And this was not well seen among the philo-atlanticist trend in the Quay d`Orces, which is our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And he criticized the fact that some of the employees of foreign affairs were not helping him, leading this new policy of autonomy strategy to be able to speak with everyone in the world.

Let’s see what will happen in the next term. In five years, he had achieved quite a lot. France was a world power that with 62 or 63 or 64 million inhabitants, it cannot be a world power anymore. And the French ruling class was saying that maybe this new power should be Europe. Europe could be an expansion of France. But since there are the Eastern European countries and Germany which are really attached to the link to Washington, the idea of autonomy of Europe was not well seen. However, for the European defense – there are some troops of the European army which have been created; there is a strategic compass, so they try to gather the doctrine together. They are trying to have a common European policy. So they are making advances towards a European defense. There is also a fund in order to mobilize, to create new weapons, to invest in new material, and to have some kind of an autonomy of the defense industry. What creates a problem is this war in Ukraine because now a lot of countries are afraid about Russia, which can be understood with what happened in Ukraine. And these countries will buy the armament from the United States also, because it’s the main army that can defend them. I mean, there are 30,000 soldiers from the United States in Germany, you have a lot of soldiers also in other eastern countries. So it will be more difficult for Emmanuel Macron to promote this Europe of defense.

But he has a good relationship, it seems, with Olaf Scholz, the chancellor of Germany, and in the program of the German government, there is this idea of European autonomy. And we can see also that in Germany they don’t have the same interest as the United States about gas, petroleum and so on. So they try, at least this is a traditional policy since Willy Brandt, to have a good relationship with Russia. In France it was the same since De Gaulle – they tried to have a good relationship with Russia. Both EU countries condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine. And this is normal because this is a violation of international law. This is not part of the project of autonomy of Europe. But in case the crisis is over in one year or two years, maybe I think that you will have a stronger influence from France and Germany so that there is more autonomy in Europe.

In the last mandate, you also had the Resilience Fund, the help for the countries after COVID, which is quite new. The idea that you should increase the budget of Europe, to make solidarity real is also something which has been in the European election campaigns in France for 15 years. Funds are increasing. So we’ll see after the war what will be. But I think Germany and you also have some countries such as Italy, Spain that might like to increase the role of the European Union. As a journalist for me it is interesting that when in his foreign policy he speaks quite a lot with the Visegrad group. He knows that on migrant issues, on other issues, he will need their vote to change Europe. So he is not only speaking with Germany, he is speaking with everyone in order to try to create a more integrated Europe. But the problem is that he is not trying to make a more integrated Europe or to make it more social. He always does it for the needs of the capital.

And we see that even on the first night after the elections, there were protests against the results, against the winner, let’s say. And they were even victims of a security fire against some people, as I understand. So could we finish this talk with your comments on what might be the challenges both internally and externally to a second term of Macron.

So internally the challenge should be the same as expressed by Emmanuel Macron in 2017. He said in 2017 that his goal was that the extreme right won’t be in the second round of presidential election in 2022. He has not achieved these goals, and I think this is really a problem for 2027 because the Republican front, I mean, when people of the left wing go to vote for someone of the right such as Emmanuel Macron, it’s less and less attractive for the French left wing voters. Only 45% of the voters of Melenchon have voted for Emmanuel Macron against the extreme right. Le Pen made 7 points more more in the second round than in 2017. So there is a real risk that with with insecurity for a lot of people in France, people will go to vote for a racist, xenophobic, anti-LGBT candidate such as Marine Le Pen in 2027. And it is a fact that since a lot of people can’t stand anymore Emmanuel Macron 2027 they wouldn’t vote against the extreme right because they are fed up with the right.

Last week we were discussing on our front page about freedoms, saying that Marine Le Pen is dangerous for our freedoms and she is. But every slogan, every comment we found, we are saying, oh, but we might use it also against Emmanuel Macron. And this is one of the problems, because during his mandate, he has made some kind of stigmatization of Muslims, the demonstrations since the mandate of Francois Hollande. Now a family with children has difficulty going to demonstrate because you always have problems with the police. You have also little extreme left groups that make trouble, of course. But the capacity of demonstrating in a peaceful manner is really hard in France. We have seen it with the yellow jackets, where people have lost their eyes and lost their hands. This was a situation we have not seen for 30 years or 40 years in France. So the issue of liberties under Emmanuel Macron is quite a problem, because you have austerity and some kind of authoritarian state too. Internally, you have to find a way to democratize the situation and to be less conflictive to discuss more with the intermediary bodies such as trade unions. And this is not really easy because one of the main topics of the presidential election was the pension system reform. Emmanuel Macron wants to make people go to pension at the age 65 years. And the opponent, Marine Le Pen, is saying 62. So you have the people who fight Emmanuel Macron because of his age of 65 pension system that vote for Emmanuel Macron against the extreme right, which is basically saying the same thing as Zemmour, that you should not change the pension system. And Emmanuel Macron, he doesn’t want to discuss this reform with the trade unions. That is a problem. We need to rebuild the democracy, social democracy in France.

 On the international level. I think one of the questions is that there will be less alignment with Americans for this war in Ukraine. The lead is given to Americans and they don’t have the same interest for peace in Europe as we have as French, as German and and as people of Eastern Europe, which will be in the front line. So we should be more autonomous and less frightening to our neighbors, such as Russia, even though Russia did this huge violation of international law that is frightening its neighbors. You can see what’s happening in Finland with the people who used to be basically against NATO and now they are saying they should join NATO in only a few weeks because they are quite frightened.

So I think in the next mandate we would need to have a president that can give an autonomous voice of France to the world. The problem is also on a European level. We’ll have to understand the liberal way of Emmanuel Macron. There was some progress for workers in the European Parliament, for instance, a directive for Uber workers, for platform workers. Both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen were against this directive, which was giving more rights to the workers. So, I mean, it’s not only that France has to have another voice in the world autonomous from Americans, but we would like to have an autonomous voice, but which is a voice for peace and for social rights, social justice and the democratization of international relations. And also to withdraw from all the theater of power of war as we have seen in Western Africa, French has started to withdraw troops. This is really important and I think we would need to see a second mandate with France not getting involved in another war, involvement, which took place in all the mandates with Francois Hollande or with Nicolas Sarkozy, with Jacques Chirac. We were involved in war and with a lot of soldiers outside. This does not create security neither for Europe nor France.

You mentioned military withdrawal from Africa, but it is important that French troops arrive in Romania in the context of the war in Ukraine. So an additional question, if I may. What role will South-Eastern Europe play for France? What will be its importance? Or what will be the French role in Southeastern Europe in the second term of Macron?

You know, I don’t really know this question, but I know that Romania Romania is a country which has a lot of links with France and had them also under Ceausescu. So France has always been willing to create a Europe of defense. And since the Eastern countries are asking for more protection, France will use its vicinity with these countries because France is the first army in the European Union, in the European bloc since there has been Brexit and now the UK is out. But France, I think that they will try to increase the military links with this region. And there is a huge determination of French people against social dumping. Why do these countries need to keep their cheap labor in order to have jobs for their own workers? So you might have some friction with them, as we have seen in last month, data about the posted worker directive. So that’s really another problem. And also his narrative – Emmanuel Macron is saying that I am for the rule of law and for democracy and for internal affairs. He might use the fact of corruption, of breaking the rule of law in Poland, Hungary or in the South Eastern Union to say “I am the protector of democracy.” So that also could create some problems between France and those countries. But I think that with the question of migration and with the question of war about the army, they will try to create stronger links.

So thank you for coming to Cross-border Talks. And we at cross-border talks remain open to further interviews and reflection on French elections and what will follow. So yout, the listeners, could subscribe to our YouTube channel or follow our blog.

Photo: Gael de Santis (source: screenshot)

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