Friday, July 4, 2014

Marine Cornuet: Q&A

This months cover by Aleksandar Ares,
with layout by K.K.W
Dark days in France? An in depth interview. By K.K.W 

"What a sadness to read about the european election this morning. What a sadness to read about the French vote..." [Lucien Zayan]

"Darkness is coming back, 80 years later the situation is looking like more and more 1934..." [Frederic Coupet]
Marine Cornuet. Photo by K.K.W
@ FiveMyles. 
K.K.W : Election results can be alarming depending on what side of the line your on - but despite that, France was certainly going through seriously tough times before the recent one. So how did you feel about the situation prior to this?

M.C: Like many other countries including the US, France has been going through the economical crisis for several years now. Unemployment rates have increased from around 7% in 2008 to more than 10% in the first trimester of 2014, with young people as the first victims of this tendency. The cost of living is also rising, while salaries are stagnating and big industrial companies closing down or firing many of their employees. The 2008 financial crisis has expanded to all areas of the French society, making an already somewhat weakened system drown even further, and accentuating the already low level of participation in politics.
Marine Le Pen, after her victory
in the May elections. Courtesy of The Guardian. 
In 2002, the then Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen almost won the presidential elections. That was a huge red flag for all electors and politicians, and everyone from the right to the left wing promised it would never happen again. The Parti Socialiste (left wing) and the UMP (right wing), France’s two major political parties, expressed their will to listen to the French people and offer solutions to their problems. However, after Sarkozy was elected, many of his voters were disappointed by his actions; in the midst of the economical crisis, many political scandals (involving his government and himself) turned people away from the UMP, and sometimes from politics as a whole. Now Hollande is going through the same process, with the lowest popularity rate a president has ever had since the 1970s.

It is thus not surprising that at the past elections Marine Le Pen and the Front National reached the best scores they’ve ever had. The abstention rate has been very high, and many people just don’t believe in the political system as it is, and the two major political parties are the ones losing the most supporters. These are indeed tough times, and the results of recent municipal and European elections are a reflection of what is going on in France: a profound distrust of politics and politicians, a rising defiance towards immigrants and foreigners - illustrated by the rejection and evacuation of the Roma people from the outskirts of big cities where they where settled in already terrible conditions - and a global discouragement when looking towards the future.

K.K.W: Given that Marine Le Pen's Front National have done so well despite being considered [at least by their critics] Far-right, authoritarian and xenophobic, why do you think it happened this way?

M.C: I think there are two main reasons. First of all the Front National discourse has shifted to become less of an ideology and to answer with seemingly simple responses to the French people’s daily life problems. One now has to be somewhat educated and aware of the past of this party to realize that it has been and is still carrying racist and xenophobic ideas. Marine Le Pen promotes nationalism and total self-sufficiency (if that is even possible) in a time when globalization seems like a huge threat: after all, the financial crisis hit the country hard because of the financial connections that exist around the world and that tie the French economy to the US banks. And it is easy to say that the solution to France’s de-industrialisation and the loss of so many jobs is in the closing of boundaries, the withdrawal from the European Union, and the re-creation of old industrial companies on French soil. These solutions would not work in today’s world, but it’s understandable that they would seduce many voters. Many small political parties criticize globalization, and want to bring new solutions to change our role in it, such as slowing down consumption, using organic agriculture, minimizing transportation of food from one side of the globe to the other, and respecting the seasonal cycle. But these solutions seem more difficult to apply and would require long-term efforts and a real shift towards the unknown. It can explain why these parties have much less followers than the FN.

The second reason to the FN’s recent successes lies in statistics: the abstention rates. Almost 38% of the French citizens in age of voting did not participate to the municipal elections that usually are the most followed of all French elections. The European elections, usually much less popular, were ignored by about 60% of the French population. Among those who did vote, 25% elected the euro-sceptics of the Front National, while the UMP and PS only received 20.81% and 13.98% of the votes. In this configuration, the FN (or any party located at the extreme end of the political spectrum) wins.

K.K.W: "Yes I voted FN. Like a lot of people I'm fed up with the other parties and I think they have some good ideas," said a retired administrator, lowering her voice. Would you say this person had a point - however small that point is?

M.C: Yes, they have a point: that the other parties should try harder to communicate with the people, and that unfortunately, simple and populist language still works very well in times of turmoil. In response, the history curriculum in schools could be revised a little to cover WW2 in a deeper way, as well as the consequences of French colonization - not only the “positive” ones as Nicholas Sarkozy called them, but all of them. Maybe this is a utopian point of view, but I am convinced that when people have a better sense of how wrong things can go when they let politicians with racist and xenophobic ideas govern, they might be more sensitive to the risk that the Front National represents in our society.

K.K.W: Unemployment is clearly a serious problem according to many - regardless of which party they voted for - with levels at 3.32 million [EU Economy - Feb 26 2014]. President Hollande's socialist party hardly made any change, so do you think the FN could?

M.C: I don’t think the Front National would solve any of France’s economical problems. The economical solutions advertised by FN candidates have often been analysed by economists and as a result many discrepancies and errors have been pointed out, especially in the numbers and projections used by the FN. For instance, the party estimated that raising the value of smaller incomes would cost around 11.2 billion Euros, while economists proposed numbers such as 20 billion euros to have a real impact. Marine Le Pen’s solutions to unemployment include France exiting from the Euro zone and the rise of protectionism, with high taxes on imported products, despite the fact that France does not have the infrastructure to produce what it is importing right now, and even though integration into world commerce and the race for innovation are proven factors of economical growth.

And even if those solutions were to work (and it’s pretty clear they wouldn’t), ideologically, I could accept that France would be excluded from the world and French people living in autarky, fearing foreigners, and living in a way that would be very close to the past century.

K.K.W: "Besides FN, no other political party in France would ever raise the issue of immigration, for fear of being labelled as "racist". Yet even for me, a yellow-skinned, black haired Asian who used to study in France, and who had on one occasion being verbally attacked by a real racist, I can see a distinction between being racist and being against uncontrolled immigration." [Oblaka - commenting on the article "Front National's success not surprising to heartland supporters" on The Guardian].  Do you think some of Frances problems come from "...uncontrolled immigration...", and would FN policies on this hurt the country ?

M.C: France’s problems do not come from an “uncontrolled immigration” issue.
French economists such as Chojnicki et Ragot have proven that immigration is not weighing on the French economy, and isn’t at the root of France’s problem. Indeed, immigrants do not make access to work harder for French people – sadly in most cases, unqualified immigrants take jobs that French people don’t want, and that have lower pay than other jobs. All these workers also consume goods and contribute to the French economy through their consumption. In average, immigrants are younger than the French-native population, and through their work they contribute (in a very small amount, but still), to the French States’ social accounts. And having a diverse society has a positive impact on the country – it makes for a more open-minded, informed and innovative population, if education is done in the right way at the Republican school. So yes, if the FN were to apply its program on a national scale, I would really be worried for the future of the country, not only economically but also morally.

K.K.W:  Marine Le Pen has said : The French "no longer want to be led by those outside our borders, by EU commissioners and unelected technocrats. They want to be protected from globalisation and take back the reins of their destiny." She has also spoken about France breaking away from the EU - and she is not the only one. Could some of the countries problems be solved going along with this?

M.C: France’s integration in the EU and the use of the Euro do cause some serious problems, mainly because the EU countries have always postponed any real fiscal, political and social integration. The EU was created as an economical entity, and has created Euro without any common politics other than monetary. The Euro would work well if all the countries were in the same economical situation, which is not the case. This structural weakness is very visible during the economical crisis, since it is nearly impossible for the EU states to respect any monetary rules given by the EU in that context. In response, these states have been devaluating social conditions to gain competitiveness, which in turn created more inequalities and slowed down demand, which does nothing to resolve the crisis.

However, withdrawing from the Euro zone would have even worst consequences. The Franc would have to be extremely devaluated, which would make all imported goods so expensive that they would impossible to buy. Many companies would have to close down or fire employees, because of the weakness of the Franc and the sudden decrease in consumption. Unemployment rates would explode, poverty and inequalities would increase. The French external debt would increase since it is libelled in Euros, while the internal debt would also climb because of the raise of interest rates, due to the fear of accelerated inflation.

Marine Le Pen is not the only one advocating for a return to the Franc. However it does not seem like a viable solution to the country’s economical problems. What we need urgently is to reinforce the European integration. And that can only happen if the EU leading countries want it. That’s our main issues. More money needs to be spent in lobbying for this cause to the EU members’ governments. But when you look at the results of the last European elections, it is just depressing to see that in the UK, France, Italy, and Poland, Eurosceptic parties have received an increased public support.

K.K.W: "But Paris is not France and France is not Paris," [a businessman], echoing the oft-repeated complaint from the provinces. "...we should aknowledge and accept the fact that glory days are behind us. France is not Europe. and is not so much of a leader anymore..." [response on FB].  Do you feel this is true, and what can, if anything, be done to change it ?

M.C: France has several economical assets that still help maintain a certain weigh in the world economy, even though the term “leader” would be an exaggeration. The country still attracts foreign investors (ranking 3rd in Europe behind the UK and Germany, according to an Ernst & Young study of 2012), and is an important investor abroad (4th in the world ranking of direct foreign investment). France has very efficient start-ups, powerful research and development infrastructures that work well. The French are known for their productivity (2nd rank behind the US, with less worked hours), and social structures that help have a better level of life (with the “sécurité sociale”, plus laws to protect workers, something to fight for to be able to preserve in the future since politicians tend to want to solve the crisis by cancelling these laws). 

Criteria for “power” in the world change in different eras and according to the international context, and it is the citizens’ and politicians’ job to determine in what fields France can and should yearn to be a leader. The country is the number one producer, seller, and exporter of luxury goods. That’s great because many jobs depend on that sector, and it is a good thing for the image of the French abroad. Now, other sectors are important, such as renewable energy, standard level of life, education, health and so on. There are many ways to be a “leader” and I hope that politicians in power remember that.
Apartment building in the Banlieues suburbs
of Paris. Considered a ghetto. 
If you would like to know more, go, or: 'Art is the reason, art is the way'

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