Presidential Elections in France: Results and Consequences
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution; Senior Advisor, McLarty Associates; Author, Fractured Continent: Europe's Crises and the Fate of the West
Former U.S. Ambassador to France and to Monaco
Senior Counselor, Institut Montaigne
Columnist, USA Today and CNN Opinion; Editor Emeritus, World Policy Journal; Former Paris Correspondent, CBS News
Experts discuss the current candidates in the upcoming French presidential election, their foreign policy agendas, and the possible repercussions new policies may have on France’s relationships with the European Union and the United States.
ANDELMAN: Greetings. Well, I’d like to welcome you all here, and whoever may be listening around the world, to this Council on Foreign Relations meeting on, “Presidential Elections in France: Results and Consequences.” Results are very much open to question now, and then that will be one of our first topics.
I’m David Andelman. I’d like to introduce our panelists. Immediately to my left, William Drozdiak, the non-resident senior fellow at Brookings Center of the United States and Europe, senior advisor for McLarty and Associates, and an author of “Fractured Continent: Europe’s Crises and the Fate of the West,” which should be in your hands shortly, we hope, right?
ANDELMAN: September. That’s shortly. But I knew him best as a worthy competitor at The Washington Post in years past.
To his left, immediately left, is Jane Hartley, the former U.S. ambassador to France and Monaco for three memorable years, appointed by Barack Obama, and who left office curiously on January 20th. (Laughter.)
HARTLEY: (Laughs.) Very curiously.
ANDELMAN: And to her left, Dominique Moisi, senior counsel of the Institut Montaigne, a co-founder of the Institut francias des relations internationales, IFRI, and the one-time editor of Politique entrangere, where I had the good fortune to find him as my editor some 30 years ago.
So I’d like to get started by plunging right in. And I want each of you to give us a projection, a prediction. Who do you see wining the first round in the presidential elections? And who will be the next president of France? Bill?
DROZDIAK: I believe Marine Le Pen will probably win the first round and will lose in the second round to Emmanuel Macron.
HARTLEY: As of today, thank you for this, Les Echo has a poll out this morning which shows in the first round Emmanuel Macron at 25, tied with Marine Le Pen, with Fillon coming up slightly at 20, and with the socialist trailing behind. In that same poll, Macron against Le Pen, in the second round, wins by, I think, 28 points. So, at the moment, understanding that this is a very fluid electorate, my bet would be on Macron.
ANDELMAN: And a smaller margin, by the way, than in 2002, when Chirac trounced Le Pen’s father 82 percent to 18 percent in the second round. So, anyway, and our one Frenchman on the panel. (Laughter.)
MOISI: Well, I do remember a champagne moment in the residency with Jane. We were making predictions on our respective future elections. And at that time, Hillary Clinton and Alain Juppe were going—(laughter)—to work together for the coming years. We were reassured, happy. And so I’m very prudent. (Laughter.) As a citizen, I know what I want—to see Macron coming first in the second round, and thrashing Marine Le Pen in the second. As political scientist, I think the first element is possible—i.e., Macron coming first, but it’s going to be difficult. And the victory of Macron is likely. But as a historian, I know the worst can happen. And for the first time, one cannot exclude then the next president of France is going to be Marine Le Pen. It is clearly not what I want. It’s not what I think will happen. But this time it’s different. You simply cannot exclude the possibility that it will come about, precisely because there is so much uncertainty in my country.
ANDELMAN: You know, 35 years ago I interviewed her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, for a first real profile on American television, CBS News. And at the end of our interview, in his chateau just outside of Paris, a little—a girl—a young girl with pigtails ran into the room. She was about 12 years ago. And he said: I want to present to you the first female president of France. (Laughter.) It was Marine Le Pen. So let’s take a look at this race. How much of this race is about keeping Marine Le Pen out of power, and how much is it reshaping a vision—a new vision of France? Whoever wants to answer that.
HARTLEY: I’ll answer.
HARTLEY: I think you have to look at the two elections slightly differently, because in France they have a first round and a second round. We would call it a run off. So I think in the first round you have very—pretty clear visions between the main three, even if you add the socialist, four candidates. Ironically, all three of them are running on change—the word of the moment, the word of politics—a little bit. Macron is seen as the change candidate, because for the first time he is running not with an establishment party. He is running with his own party. As many people know, he was economics minister under Hollande. He left that government because he wanted more change, particularly on the economic front—labor flexibility, more investment in France, things like that. Fillon won the primary against Alain Juppe, much to the surprise of everybody, including the two of us, by running on a platform that was economic change. And he beat Juppe, who was more of a moderate centrist, quite handily. Le Pen, I think it’s quite clear, she wants change pretty much on all fronts, and probably, obviously, the most extreme change of anybody. That’s the first round.
The second round I think—and the reason you see these numbers with both Fillon and Macron beating Le Pen by 20 to 30 points, is the second round it becomes much more about beating Le Pen. I don’t want to take too much time. There is one interesting thing, though, in one of the polls I looked at recently, which has to do with the fluidity of the election. In terms of people that are strongly committed to Le Pen, 75 percent of her voters are strongly committed to Le Pen. Sixty percent of Fillon voters are strongly committed to Fillon. At the moment, and this could easily change, 40 percent of Macron voters are committed to Macron, strongly.
ANDELMAN: Yeah, you were just back from Paris. I think you found some young voters who were very—
DROZDIAK: Yeah. I was just—I just flew in from Paris yesterday. And I was struck, as Dominique alluded to, that this could be a very perplexing election. One of the striking things that I found was the tremendous support that Marine Le Pen has from young people. One of the polls said 18- to 24-year-olds, who were very frustrated with the ruling class, 40 percent of them support her. And she’s getting tremendous fieldwork from young people there. So this is sort of an anomalous reaction, whereas young people supported in Brexit staying in the European Union, in France they’re looking to disrupt the ruling establishment. And it shows how she’s run an extremely clever, media-savvy campaign. This is not her father’s National Front.
She is also appealing, as we saw in the recent trip to Moscow where she met with Vladimir Putin, to the far left. She probably has the most generous social benefits that she’s offering. So she’s running a populist campaign that is far right in terms of its anti-immigrant appeal and far-left in terms of its very exorbitant social benefits that Macron wants to cut. So I think this is—this is something that is typical, that I found researching my book, that you see the Danish People’s Party doing the same thing in Denmark and elsewhere, that they are crossing political lines, defying the ideological divide in different ways, to come up with a new majority.
ANDELMAN: But I want to get into the actual substance of the campaign in a moment, but, Dominique, tell me how—tell me how you see the polls. You go—I know that your history in France in politics goes way back, longer than any of us at this table. How do you think the polls—do the polls there really reflect the views of the French people? And I will tell you an interesting story. I write a column for CNN Opinion. And CNN will not allow us to use any of the opinion polls from France, because they consider them unreliable, largely because they’re mainly conducted online rather than by telephone or in person. So you’ve seen that.
MOISI: Well, I think there are similarities and differences between Great Britain, which proceeded with Brexit, the United States, where you know what has happened, and France. There are similarities in the sense that there are three key words which are present in all three competitions: anger, ideally at the system; fear of the refugees, wherever they come from—the other; and the absolute other is different, depending on the three countries. And there’s nostalgia for a past that no longer exists, or may even not have existed ever. The “Downton Abbey” feeling in Great Britain, white American in the 1950s, and probably the same thing in France. But there are differences. And the fourth—no, sorry—the fourth similarity is that people may tend not to say what they think, if they are for Trump in the United States or for Marine Le Pen in France. And you may be surprised.
ANDELMAN: You don’t think they’re more likely to be—the French are very outspoken, though, in many ways. You don’t think—
MOISI: Well, there’s something. And there’s still something that’s probably eroding greatly, by present. And the major difference between Great Britain the United States and France can be summarized as follows: Institutionally there are two ballots. The first ballot, it’s a referendum against the system. But in the second ballot, you can choose—select your president. Politically, without offending Hillary Clinton, I think she might have been a great president. She was not a good candidate. And Macron in France, I don’t know whether he’s going to be a good president, but I know he’s quite a good candidate.
And the third reason is that there is a historical, cultural dimension about the National Front, which doesn’t exist in the two other countries. And that is the link with—even indirect, even far away—with Vichy France and Petain. I was in Frankfurt not long ago in a debate with Joschka Fischer. And he says: How can France vote for the venerators of Vichy and Petain, when we as Germans fought for 70 years to transcend our past? If you do that, we will be alone to be normal.
ANDELMAN: Well, you see, I think that’s absolutely right. And what I—what I have found interesting is to watch how—and wonder if it’s not the case that the worse the United States begins to appear under Trump, and the more difficulties Trump has in either getting his agenda across or in some fashion changing the whole nature of America, the more the French are less likely, inclined to vote for someone who’s likely to have a similar impact in terms of tearing France apart. They don’t want to turn their country—their patrie, which they love and adore—over to a person like that.
I mean, you were the ambassador there for three years—American ambassador. Do you feel that same way?
HARTLEY: I actually do. And I think one thing we can’t discount as we compare this election to the U.S. election and to Brexit is the structure of the French election, which is the second round. So I don’t know if you had a second round in Brexit—you know, there were a lot of people saying after, oh, if I had known I wouldn’t have voted for it, or more young people would have come out to vote. I don’t know if that’s the case. But I do think, as you’re looking at a first round, second round vote, many cases in the first round you do get a protest vote. In the second round, you get to see what your protest vote did, and perhaps react to it. I know in the French elections, in the regional elections, we’ve already seen this, when the Front National does well in the first round, they do much less-well in the second round, with many more people coming out to vote.
And I think Trump plays a role in that, because, you know, if you’re really in a second round and you’re saying, all right, I put my protest vote in but now I actually have to elect the next president of France, and you look at Trump, and the French say, well, this is what it could be I think it’s—I think it’s—
ANDELMAN: I would take—bring in the role of Germany and in Europe.
DROZDIAK: Well, I just want to say, I take exception to that view in the sense that what I found is that Marine Le Pen is—echoes this yearning for nostalgia that Dominique mentioned. And if anything, she is the person you would vote for if you want France to change the least. Macron represents dramatic change. He wants to end the 35-hour week. He wants to make France much more entrepreneurial, reduce the size of the state. Whereas, she wants to preserve all of this. And her whole advertising campaign is evocative about the old France, and we have to regain that way of life.
ANDELMAN: Oh, no, but at the same time she’s going to change the entire system, the way it works now. She’s going to pull France out of the EU. She’s going to return the franc as the currency.
DROZDIAK: Either way, the system is going to—whoever gets—if it’s Macron or Le Pen, there will be a major crisis in France over the legislative elections, because neither of them will have a working majority in parliament. Now—
ANDELMAN: Well, that’s a very interesting point, the working majority in parliament. Neither of those candidates will have really any members of the National Assembly at the elections that will come along in June, or end of May beginning of June. Can they govern? Or will this be another five years of freeze, of—yeah, Dominique.
MOISI: Well, if—
ANDELMAN: “Cohabitation” is the word I was looking for.
MOISI: Well, if Fillon was to be elected, which is very unlikely right now but not totally impossible, in a way he’s the statesman there, the last remaining. But he has been self-destroying himself to a large extent. If Fillon was to be elected, he would have a majority to govern, because the right would rally behind him. If Macron is to become the next president of France—and here I disagree with some of my best colleagues—I think Macron would have a majority, because he would create a dynamic behind him. The French are legitimists. They want the man they have elected to have a majority behind him. It’s not certain. I realize it’s far-fetched. The left has completely exploded. The morning Manuel Valls, the former prime minister of Hollande, has announced that he was supporting Macron, which may be seen by some as a kiss of death, or at least a poisonous tribute. But the right is stronger.
But at the same time, I think if none of the two key parties is present on the second ballot, it creates such a new wind that—a new breeze of oxygen into the system—
ANDELMAN: Or it requires every—it requires for every particular issue and a vote a new coalition has to be formed. This will be incredibly complex and disruptive, no?
MOISI: Well, it will be the center-left, the center-right, and the center-center would come together, and they could form a majority. If Marine Le Pen were to come to power, I know that some Republicans at the right of the right of the party would probably be seduced to follow her. And she would try to appoint a prime minister coming from the Republicans. Would that be enough to create a majority? So, from that standpoint, the most adventurous choice for the French is clearly Marine Le Pen.
ANDELMAN: So in our few minutes before we turn it over to, I’m sure, a raft of questions, I’d like to explore a little bit about where this takes us in Europe in relation to the United States and so on. And, Bill, you’re our resident German expert, from many, many years involved in Germany. Where do you see Europe going, with either candidate, whoever wins?
DROZDIAK: Well, I think this election is absolutely critical for the future of the European Union, and in particular for Germany. Right now, the mood in Berlin is extremely somber and worried. The view from the Chancellery, and I’ve interview Chancellor Merkel on a number of occasions, is that France’s weakness is Germany’s problem. And one of the great successful stories of Germany in the post-war era has been to build peaceful and prosperous relations with all nine of its neighbors. Now, everywhere they look on their periphery they see deterioration and fragmentation. France is not a strong partner for them. Merkel did not have a leader she would trust in either Sarkozy or Hollande. And she fears that whether it’s Macron, let alone Le Pen, it will be another period of weakness till France sorts this out.
On the eastern periphery, the Kaczynski party, Law and Justice, is turned anti-German and anti-EU. They also see she has a very troubled relationship, as we saw in the meeting a week ago Friday in Washington, with Donald Trump, in which he presented her with a bill and she tried to explain to him, this isn’t the way NATO works. And then also, you see the potential for other—there could be a Greek financial crisis exploding any moment. And there could also be an Italian banking crisis that occurs and leads to fresh elections. So we’re—
ANDELMAN: Which could suggest that the French might want to get out of all of that whole mess anyway, which would help Le Pen, in theory.
DROZDIAK: I think whether—even if Macron, with a pro-European Union stance, was elected, and whether Schulz or Merkel is elected chancellor—both of them are pro-Europe—and they will try to galvanize the European Union, Europe is heading into some very troubled times because the contradictions within the eurozone, within the capability of trying to keep the diverging economies together of the eurozone is going to break apart at some point.
ANDELMAN: That’s interesting. Let’s turn a bit to Russia, if we can. There was a rather—we woke up last weekend to rather dramatic pictures of Marine Le Pen suddenly appearing in a conference room at the—in the Kremlin, sitting across from a very chummy Vladimir Putin. Are the Russian—first of all, the Russians like to make a stab at controlling this election. You have—Madam Ambassador, you were very close to the government and so on. Did you see the—what role did you see the Russians playing in French politics?
HARTLEY: I was interviewed about this before I left France. And as a diplomat, when you get a question like that you usually say no comment. But actually—
ANDELMAN: You had already resigned, or about it, so. (Laughs.)
HARTLEY: But what I said at the time is that given what we’ve seen in the United States, and knowing what we know about Russia’s history in Europe and in France, that something like that bears looking at strongly.
ANDELMAN: And that’s not—do you think that’s going to hurt Le Pen then, her appearing suddenly in the Kremlin a month before the election?
HARTLEY: No. I mean, listen, Le Pen did that. I was slightly confused when I saw it. But I think, you know, if you look at sort of—take it out of the Trump handbook, she was really playing to her constituency. And if you look at the three main candidates frankly—then I want to go back to just one thing Dominique said about the parliamentary majority—if you look at the three candidates, Emmanuel Macron would have probably pretty similar foreign policy commitments—very similar to President Hollande, in terms of Minsk, in terms of sanctions on Russia. I don’t—I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of daylight between Macron and President Hollande and the previous administration. You will see some daylight with former Prime Minister Fillon. He’s already come out publicly against sanctions on Russia. And, obviously, the person who has had the closest, longest-term—including funding from a Russian bank—is Marine Le Pen.
HARTLEY: Can I, real quick? Can I just say one thing about the parliamentary majority?
ANDELMAN: Please, please.
HARTLEY: I am actually with Dominique, although almost all my friends think I’m wrong. (Laughs.) And when you look at the Macron campaign, if you compare it to our country—everybody wants to compare it to somebody like Barack Obama, a coalition of the young, very sophisticated, very dynamic, very sophisticated online fundraising, messaging, all of that. But you could compare it to 1992, and you could compare it to the DLC and Bill Clinton. And what Emmanuel Macron really is doing is he’s running up the middle, he’s running up the center. And it’s pretty fascinating.
MOISI: Yeah. Could I just follow on that? Are the French going to vote like the Americans in 2008, and elect Macron? Or are they going to vote like the Americans in 2016 and elect Trump? And in a way, they are thinking this way, this comparison with the United States is there, it’s present. And of course, some people add when they are going to vote now, like the Americans in 2008, but in 2022 they will vote like the Americans in 2016. And then it will be the same pattern. Le Pen would follow Macron the way Trump followed Obama.
On the issue of foreign policy, you could say that there is an element of anti-Americanism in the Russophilia that may exist in France. But at the same time, when you see Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin, you have to ask yourself, but isn’t she doing exactly the same thing as Donald Trump? So this element of doing what the Americans are not doing is no longer present. The major difference is that for Macron the first ally of France is Germany. And for Marine Le Pen, the first ally of France may be Russia. And here, maybe slight disagreement with Bill, I think in Germany they have chosen, clearly, Macron. I mean, Marine—Angela Merkel was for Juppe, and so the people around here. But he’s no longer there. And so Macron is the next-best alternative.
ANDELMAN: Thank you. We have—
DROZDIAK: Just a quick follow up. They are in favor of Macron. Merkel likes him. But she fears the price he will ask her to pay, which will be you Germans have to sign up for a European banking union; you have to sign up for euro bonds, meaning you have to accept responsibility for our debt; and you’re also going to have to do much more in terms of security and defense. And all of those things frighten the German voters and their politicians.
ANDELMAN: OK. Well, with that, it is time for me to open up the mistral of all of your questions from the floor. I would note—I would like to invite members to join our conversation with their questions. A reminder, again, this is on the record, so anything you say can and may be used against—(audio break).
Q: Thanks. Matt Miller with Capital Group.
Let’s assume it’s Macron and Le Pen in round two. She’s reading all the same polls that you discussed. How would you assess what her strategy will be, and what it’s plausibility—you know, plausible path to her for victory? Can she, for example, cast Macron as the establishment. He’s a Rothschild banker. He’s not change. Blah, blah, blah. So I, Le Pen, am the only change candidate. Can she persuade the skeptics of her candidacy that it’s not racist to talk about immigration, and anything else you may see in the mix? I’d be curious, plausible paths for her, if there are any.
MOISI: Well, there is one dimension which we have not been discussing, which makes that election different from all others. And that is the rate of abstention. Usually the French, in the presidential election, tend to vote massively—80 percent, around. And so the level of abstention that doesn’t go beyond 20 percent. This time, we speak of something higher than 30 percent. And that’s the only condition under which Marine Le Pen could win—i.e., a lot of people would abstain, from the extreme left, from the right. They would simply say: I’m not going to choose.
We have statistics showing that among the Fillon electorate, one-third would abstain. That’s probably not enough for Marine Le Pen to win. But that means that this time would be very different from 2002. And she may move, jump, from 20 percent—her father in 2002—to 40 percent. And that is a different political situation. How a key country in Europe can function normally with 40 percent of its citizens have voted—
ANDELMAN: No, 40 percent of its voters.
MOISI: Of its voters, sorry. Of its voters, having voted—absolutely. You’re absolutely right, 40 percent of its voters having voted for Marine Le Pen.
HARTLEY: I’ll take it. To Dominique’s point, and I said it before, 75 percent of the Le Pen voters are firmly committed to her. You don’t see those numbers for other people. And frankly. You see less for Macron in terms of firm commitment—although he’s growing substantially—firm commitment than you see for Fillon. I think that is important. And you know, that’s one of the things we saw in the primary against Alain Juppe, which is turnout was key. And Fillon had a great strength in rural, more Catholic areas. And it was the first primary, and it was quite a low turnout. So I do think turnout, and especially with Macron—remember, you’re dealing—and I still bet on him—you’re dealing with not an established party. You’re dealing with, you know, something that doesn’t have the infrastructure, although they have a very, very, very smart campaign. But getting out the vote’s going to be critical.
And to your specific question, I think if I were Marine Le Pen—you’ve seen it already—you know, just about every time she talks about him it’s like there’s an adjective—Rothschild banker Emmanuel Macron—and Yves would know better than I do, but he really wasn’t at Rothschild that long. (Laughs.) But that’s the anti-banker, anti-elite, anti-educated—Emmanuel Macron. And my guess is, partly, you know, not only her policies, where she will go in terms of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU—and the EU is not that popular in France—but she will play this elite, elite education, he’s out for the wealthy and I’m for you. And, you know, we’ve seen that before. And it can tap into an emotional response that can be difficult to poll, frankly.
DROZDIAK: Yeah, Marine Le Pen has made it clear, she wants to run against Macron in the second round because she believes in the intervening two weeks, between the first round and the second round, she can make a clear-cut case to attract voters from the left that will be alienated by the reform program of Macron. So that’s how she sees her path to a majority. I think that the abstentions will play a role. But once you can reduce the number of voters, and she can attract from the left people who are scared of the pain and sacrifice that Macron’s reform program will ask of them, then she can find her way to a 50 percent majority.
ANDELMAN: And I would add, that she is an accomplished television performer and debater. I saw her in the last debate, and she was truly extraordinary. And in a one-on-one debate, I think that Macro could face—
DROZDIAK: And they have the best social media digital campaign going, which is what makes it so frightening.
Q: Thank you. Rita Hauser.
I want to ask you, Dominique, post the election, supposing Macron wins, what happens to the Socialist Party? Is it going to disintegrate, disappear? Will its legions move over to a new party? Look what’s happened in England—you know, you’re looking at a socialist party that’s going to be dead for a long time. And I’m curious to know how you see—
MOISI: The Socialist Party, after a Macron victory, will not be that different than the fate of the Labour Party in Great Britain. It would explode. The serious part of it will have joined Macron.
ANDELMAN: What were the fate of the socialists after Jospin came in third to Chirac and Le Pen in 2002?
MOISI: Yeah, but this time, again, it’s different. It’s really—you have a Socialist president who cannot run again, because he’s too unpopular. You have a Socialist Party that in the primaries decides to please himself and go to the left. You have a candidate quite friendly, young, energetic, and totally suicidal in his strategy. And today, he’s calling for Melenchon to join him, when five points separates Hamon, who has 10, from Melenchon, who has 15. And so, no, I think this is the death of the Socialist Party as we have known it. It will, of course, reinvent itself, but maybe with a different name and clearly with different people.
DROZDIAK: Just to Rita’s question, you see that everywhere on the continent. It’s not just Labour in Britain. The Socialist Party imploded in Spain. The Social Democrats re trying to reinvent themselves in Germany. I think the left-right divide as we have known it ideologically is finished in Europe, and people are trying to redefine themselves in terms of identity politics, as we are in this country and elsewhere. It’ll come down to conservatives versus reformers.
MOISI: Well, if I may, because this is such an important issue. The question in France is that Europe is a dividing line that goes through the conservative and through the socialists. Some socialists are for Europe. Others are against. Same with the Republican Party. And this is the line. And you can call that line those who are for identity and culture, those who are for globalization. But in the French case, it’s really Europe. But Europe, of course, means so many different things.
HARTLEY: Dominique, though, couldn’t you have as we saw in 1992—not to keep going back to it here—but we had a reinvention of our own Democratic Party in 1992. The Democrats had lost an election—a national election in 1980, in 1984, and in 1988. So they’d lost three national elections. There was a move, orchestrated in many cases by the—what was called then the Democratic Leadership Conference, Bill Clinton was the messenger and ultimate candidate and obviously became president. What he did, and they did, was move the Democratic Party more to the middle. And that’s what you hear in the rhetoric of Valls, in the rhetoric of Emmanuel Macron, even, frankly, Ségolène Royal. So could you have sort of a majority party that is the old—that is the new socialists, with the fringe Socialist Party very off to the left?
MOISI: Well, I hope it will be the case for the Socialist Party, though it will no longer maybe be called the Socialist Party. Valls would have been a much better candidate for the left than Hamon is, that’s clear.
HARTLEY: Right, right.
ANDELMAN: But see, I see Valls—going from Macron today—simply as a—moving the—(inaudible)—tour back almost at one and—a half a tour, so that everybody’s starting to line up even before the second tour to bring everybody together. But we should see about that.
Q: Jim Hoge, editor of—retired from Foreign Affairs. Nice to see you again, Dominique.
(Comes on mic.) There are a number of elections, including the French election, in this season in Europe. Is that not working? Is that working better? OK.
My question is this, there are elections in Europe, of France is most important, but Germany later, and a couple of others in between. And at the very same time, we have an administration now in Washington, the Trump administration, which has taken a highly unexpected, but conditional approach to NATO, and what we will support and what we won’t. And I’m just wondering what affect this sort of change of America’s posture, if that’s the way it’s being viewed in Europe, is having both on the outcomes of elections coming up, and generally on policy as it is—security policy as it’s thought of for the next few years in Europe.
DROZDIAK: A very pertinent question, Jim, on the day when Theresa May announced that Britain will be leaving by triggering Article 50. It was interesting in her speech today that she emphasized—she used the word security and defense cooperation more than ever before, addressing Europe. So basically, the Brits are saying: Be careful about extracting too high a price, because we are there to protect you. They have Europe’s biggest military. And I think, the attitude that I found in—both in France and in Germany on this latest trip was that people are so petrified about the implications of the Trump presidency that they feel they are entering an era an era of history that could be called the post-American Europe.
And they have to start thinking and scrambling fast to find solutions to the problems they confront in an era when they may no longer be able to defend on the—depend on the United States for being a reliable trade partner, as well as a reliable security partner, because the message that Merkel took home from her meeting with Trump, what frightened them the most, was that she was told by him: We see you in the European Union as a competitive threat. And they will drive policy in that sense. And in that respect, I think the risk of a protectionist war, because if we impose protectionist policies, the Europeans will respond in kind. And then we’re back into a situation of the ’20s and ’30s, Smooth-Hawley tariffs, et cetera. And that’s what’s very worrisome about the global—the outcome of the global—
ANDELMAN: What I found most encouraging when Merkel was here with Trump was when she pointed out, quite rightly, that he wants to do bilateral trade deals. So Europe is actually one country, one nation, one entity. So he could do a bilateral trade between the U.S. and Europe and still not get rid of his—blow up his philosophy. So perhaps we’ll see something—
DROZDIAK: Yeah, the European Commission negotiates on behalf of the 27.
ANDELMAN: Exactly. So, sorry, yeah go ahead.
HARTLEY: Could I just add to that? Having been in France not quite three years, and having lived through three major terrorist attacks and probably many more—I think eight was the word the prime minister used at one point. It’s public. I’m not making news here. I think the role of France as a partner and an ally is not recognized as much as it should be in terms of how much we do together, in terms of military, counterterrorism, domestic security. And when I was going long ago before my Senate confirmation hearings, before the Foreign Relations Committee, at one point McCain pulled me aside. And he said: You know, France is the only country on the continent that has both the commitment and the capability. And they, in many cases, are our boots on the ground in Africa. If we lose that, that is a huge blow, particularly on a military basis, intelligence, and obviously foreign policy.
MOISI: But if I may add to that, in answering Jim’s questions, this is clearly not the view of the White House right now. The important country is Germany. It’s not France. And in my country right now, is there an impact of Trump’s election on the result of the elections? It’s very difficult to say. The polls show that the French, in their huge majority, are very anti-Trump. Eighty percent have a negative opinion of Trump, with a slight exception of the voters of the National Front, who only have a 60 percent bad election—bad vision of Trump. And in the end, I would say that—
ANDELMAN: And that’s not going to hurt Le Pen?
MOISI: —the calendar of the sequence may not be that good for Marine Le Pen. And we are back to think, can we have a world where Russia is becoming so much more aggressive, America led by such an unpredictable president, and add to the confusion, if not the chaos, with electing Marine Le Pen? Maybe it’s too dangerous. Maybe we don’t like Macron. Maybe we are worried that he has no experience, that he will not have a majority. But it’s much less dangerous than the other alternative.
Q: Thanks. I’m Lucy Komisar. I’m a journalist.
Bill mentioned something about that there was support among some for increased social welfare, and that would be from the far left. Although, if you look at Scandinavia, it doesn’t seem to me like the far left. Also, that people are concerned that Macron would reduce benefits—social benefits that people were getting. And it came across as they shouldn’t be worried about that. But this kind of what is described now as being liberal thinking seems to be what threw the election to Trump in this country, and could be the reason why there are people that are supporting Marine Le Pen. And perhaps the elites have to begin thinking that if they continue to throw people at the bottom under the bus, the people are going to react, and not in a way that’s really good for their country.
MOISI: Well, I—yeah, I agree with that. This is why it is such an uncertain election.
ANDELMAN: But do you see it as uncertain as it was in the United States, because what she’s saying basically, I think, is that that should in fact make it more certain that Le Pen is in trouble.
MOISI: You see, there are very different attitudes. There was one woman coming from nowhere, speaking from a marketplace in Strasbourg. And she was interviewed. She was in her mid-50s. She was politically noncommitted. And she was asked: Well, who are you going to vote for? It was a few weeks ago. And she said: I’m for Macron. Why are you for Macron? Well, precisely because he’s neither from the left nor from the right. He takes the good ideas that exist in the right and the good ideas that exist in the left. And you will have that electorate against the one you are mentioning.
And the paradox, in a way, is that Marine Le Pen capitalized on anger. By the end of the day, Macron capitalizes on fear—fear of Marine Le Pen. He is, at the same time, the candidate of change. He’s really new. The candidate of change is really new. He was never there. Marine Le Pen, through herself or her father, has been here forever. And at the same time, it can appear as the reassuring candidate of status quo, which is either a strength or a weakness when people want to rock the boat and destroy the table.
ANDELMAN: Clinton tried to do that, also.
DROZDIAK: I just want to make—this illustrates the fracturing of the ideologies that I spoke about earlier. Thirty years ago in France, you had about 20 percent of the voters casting their ballots for the Communist Party of Georges Marchais, a Stalinist figure—supported Stalinist thinking. Most of those supporters have crossed the ideological spectrum and are now voting for the far right. Why? Because they fear that their jobs, blue-collar jobs, were going to immigrants and they were stirred up by this xenophobic language.
In the north of France, support is strongest for Le Pen because that is an economic area of desolation. And one of her promises is a lot of people complain they can’t even get proper medical care because it’s become such a desolate area doctors don’t want to even base there. She’s promising I will make sure that you are within 20 minutes of a clinic or a hospital.
So it’s that kind of—plus more generous pensions. So that’s where I say she’s trying to draw on generous social policies as a way of attracting these people, even though she doesn’t know how she’s going to pay for it.
ANDELMAN: Well, you see, I also happen to have the feeling that there is no longer a political spectrum in France. I think it’s become basically a circle or an oval, and the—and the left and the right have joined forces at the top. And this could be the one—the one positive that could help Le Pen in the end.
HARTLEY: Just one point on Macron. I mean, I worked with Macron quite a bit when I was over there. He was the minister of economy under Hollande. You know, he is not throwing—I think throwing people under the bus. You know, that is not his policy.
The economic policies of Fillon are much more conservative and, you know, somewhat Thatcherite in terms of the pace and the number of budget cuts. You know, Macron is talking about more flexibility. He’s talking about more investment in France. He’s talking about more money for education. Obviously, he’s talking about some change issues.
But on a personal experience, before I left I was doing my own little mini-focus group, and at one point I had lots of security over there, and my security was fantastic. And they rotated, but they were all really absolutely fantastic French policemen. So one day I said, so, who are you—they were mostly guys—I said, who are you guys going to vote for? And a lot of them lived in the communities that you’re talking about. They commuted into Paris. They were one week on, one week off. I expected them to say Le Pen. “Macron.” I said, really? Why? They said because he represents change, and he represents change sort of in an optimistic—when I look at the two of them, one is a sort of harsh, dark reality of change, and the other one is a more optimistic—maybe unrealistic, but we don’t know that yet—I would hope not—optimistic view of change.
MOISI: Could I just add something? Because you touched on something very important. France tends to like literary figures. There’s an element of romanticism in my country. The wife of Macron tends to say, well, he is becoming unbearable; he takes himself for Joan of Arc. (Laughter.) But when you look at him, he looks more like a mixture of “Stand Alone” hero, or even the young Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole. (Laughter.) And there is an element which would seem completely irrational, completely absurd to others. But it fits into a dangerous trend of French history, which is to look for the improbable providential person. And he’s smiling, he’s charming. I cannot reveal what the ambassador told me. He’s handsome, which I know—(laughter)—is not politically correct to say.
HARTLEY: I said he was handsome and as young as my son. (Laughter.) Or he looked that young. (Laughs.)
MOISI: But it does play a role.
DROZDIAK: The Russian propaganda, which some people feared was going to be intruding into the French campaign as it did in the American campaign, does not seem to have had an effect. There were Russia Today and other reports citing rumors that Macron was a gay—a closet gay and that he—he is married—who his wife is 24 years older than he is, and that it’s a sham marriage. But these claims have not had any impact that I can see in terms of the views of French voters.
MOISI: Yeah, but you have to realize, Bill, that the equivalent of what is sex for the Anglo-Saxon is money for the French. (Laughter.) And that’s a huge difference. We don’t care. (Laughter.)
DROZDIAK: But also, in comparison to Hollande, any candidate in this election would be a change candidate, right?
ANDELMAN: Well, let’s hope Russian propaganda backfires.
HARTLEY: It’s actually—
MOISI: They chose the wrong country.
HARTLEY: It’s actually a positive his wife is—I think is 21 years older. It’s a negative he was an investment banker—(laughter)—according to Dominique. (Laughs.)
Q: Jim Lowenstein. I’m a former diplomat.
You mentioned money, Dominique. Strangely enough, none of you have mentioned the collapsing campaign of Fillon, the role that money played.
Now, that leads me to a second question, which is the question of an April surprise. All the surprises so far have been in the Fillon camp. What if there is another terrorist attack, for example? How does that play into the last-minute results in round two?
MOISI: You can’t exclude that. One week is a long time in politics, Harold Wilson used to say. We have nearly four weeks up to the first ballot of the election. A series of terrorist attack(s) could have an impact Revelation of new corruption scandals, even one affecting Macron. But I think if they—they are looking for one. If there was one, it would be on the—on the marketplace already.
The problem with Fillon—because this is what you touched—is that he may have done something very legal which was part of the corruption of the system, but there was some element—it was so concrete. When you receive as a gift a suit that costs nearly $9,000, the workers—the unemployed people can immediately relate to that. And he didn’t realize what it meant. And I think from that standpoint he surprised us all because he wanted to project an image of integrity, probity, provincial Catholicism, no show-off—if you are rich, you hide it well. And suddenly, there was a realization that he was not the way he wanted us to believe he was. And you can’t really survive that, unless Macron collapsed between now and April 23rd.
DROZDIAK: And this will only strengthen Le Pen’s claim of the corruption of the ruling caste.
MOISI: Well, today there was a revelation of a conversation between the treasurer of her party and herself showing that the treasurer says the European Parliament will pay for the National Front. So we have the proof—absolute proof. He say it himself. It’s not the same kind of corruption, of course. It’s for the party.
ANDELMAN: OK. We have three minutes, so I’m going to take two quick questions. So first Yves and then the one in the back of the room, OK, and then we’ll have them answer that.
Q: Thank you. Yves Istel, non-Macron Rothschild. (Laughter.)
On the subject of money, you haven’t discussed very much—and it would be great to have your reaction—that leaving—Le Pen’s position on leaving Europe means leaving the euro and the return to the franc. And I would suspect that that’s what I would like to hear from you, that there’s a fear in France—French people tend to have savings. The history of the franc isn’t so great. Is this going to be a factor in the remaining weeks?
ANDELMAN: OK. And one more question in the back, and then folks can—
Q: I’m going to yield because this woman has been trying desperately to get your attention.
ANDELMAN: Oh, I’m sorry. (Laughs.) I didn’t see you back there.
Q: It’s solidarity between us. I’m a French journalist. Thank you.
Just two question, two quick question. My first one is that you mention a lot of polls. Do you believe in polls now—do you believe in polls? Because you know that polls in America were not very good. And do you think that French polls maybe are different with methodology?
And the second question is about television, because in French we have some quota in television. So, you know, a quota is that Marine Le Pen, she has to speak maybe two minutes. It’s like equality. Do you think it can have a kind of consequences about—on the election? Because Trump was on all the channel. He had a lot of time to speak.
ANDELMAN: Who wants to start with the euro and then the—
DROZDIAK: Well, in answer to Yves’ question, I think that there’s a lot of—a lot of anxiety and anger in Southern European countries about the way the austerity regime has been imposed by Germany and the creditor countries in the north, and that this has been a main contributing factor to the high youth unemployment. Not just Greece and Italy, but also in France. And, as you know, there has been a tremendous brain drain, a lot of young people going to London and now on to Silicon Valley. From where I come from, from Palo Alto, there are more than 100,000 young French people who have settled there in the last few years because they can find jobs of the kind that they want, and they can’t find them in France. So I think the anxiety is more based on that policy, and they see the European Union as an avatar of globalization. And there’s been a backlash in France, as there has been elsewhere. So that’s how I read that.
And just on your question, polls, no, I would not trust them, certainly not in France, given where David said. And I think television—the televised debate between the two rounds could be decisive, and the fact that Le Pen is strong on television is what is most worrisome.
ANDELMAN: OK. And we’re going to have to wrap it up, so one quick remark from the ambassador to close.
HARTLEY: Oh, OK. In terms of the euro, I was just the other night with a CEO of a multinational company. And what gets lost a lot of the time, France has some of the strongest multinational companies anywhere in the world. They operate in euros. They clear through dollars. To be the only country—(laughs)—that goes back to the franc—and by the way, in terms of residents of France, many of them have mortgages in euros. And what happens, then, when the franc gets devalued? I mean, I think across the board, whether it is for people or for companies, it’s a bad thing.
On the polls, even though we were totally wrong with our polling firm, I think—it’s a year of fluidity; I’d be careful on polls. But I’m not as critical of the polls. I think the key thing to watch is turnout, because if you don’t turn out your supporters—and we’ve seen this across many races this year—then those polling numbers don’t mean anything.
ANDELMAN: Well, the French had a hard enough time going from the old franc to the new franc, so—(laughter)—many, many years ago. But thank you very much. We have had, I think, an interesting discussion. (Applause.) And in one month from now we’ll know.