Politics & The World

Since the Brexit vote in the UK there has been a lot of speculation concerning the next countries to leave the European Union. France is being repeatedly named in those lists. There are several reasons why France is not likely to leave the EU any time soon. 

While British politicians are fairly unpopular in Brussels, French MEPs make up the core of the political groups and their messages, especially those who have pushed political integration and centralization. Joining the EU bureaucracy is considered to be a capstone to a successful political career, and a chance to be considered a “real” statesmen.The French political class is quite committed to the EU project. 

Moreover, there is substantial evidence that the French population overall  has a relatively high opinion of the EU and its institutions. Polling conducted after the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom backs this up: in a Paris-Match/iTELE poll in June of this year, only 35% of the surveyed people supported the idea of France leaving the European Union. A similar TNS poll only found 33% supporting the same. This trend is also confirmed by the current lead and importance of 2017 presidential candidate Alain Juppé, a former prime minister, running on the platform of being  “a European” while favoring political integration in the EU. The pro-EU Juppé is the current leader of the field in his primary with 42% (with only 28% going to his chief rival, former president Nicolas Sarkozy), and therefore the most likely to become the next president.

The French May Be More Easily Bullied than the British 

The Brexit reactions from EU officials only prove what the general trend of the European Union is: join our club or we will bully you. After creating a single market and restricting trade policies of its members, the EU then forces those who do not give in to accept all the edicts of the European commission — or else. If some sectors of the French population begin to push for separation, the EU will again get the fear machine rolling to prevent other countries from leaving.

This can be seen in the very language used by the pro-EU side, and leaving the EU is routinely described as “leaving Europe” as if being in the EU is synonymous with being European. Obviously, Europe as a continent (physical) is quite different from the European Union (political), but equating the two makes every potentially defecting country feel the effect of physically drifting away. It’s the playground bully telling his friends not to play with one particular kid so that he obeys the rules.

Perhaps the biggest factor in applying pressure against separatists is the press. While the British press has been, to put it quite frankly, enormously critical of the EU at times, the French press doesn’t feel this need at all. In the UK, the press pushes the parties, in France the parties push the press. News sources are either state-run or affiliated to one of the two main parties, of which both praise the European Union above all else.

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the editorial of the major newspaper Le Monde wrote:  “We believe … that ‘Brexit’ will release some of the darkest forces working European views today: regressive nationalism, a rise in far-right protests, and — here and there — threats to democracy.” Le Monde’s conservative rival publisher Le Figaro expressed its worries that the UK vote would trigger a referendum in France: “The risk is great as other countries rush into the breach opened by the United Kingdom.” The left-wing Libération seemed content with the result, because the UK had been in the way of further integration, of a ‘common project.’ Les Echos started the day by titling that the day of the referendum would remain a black day for Europe.” (Source) The state-broadcaster France Télévision was visibly in shock, then followed its own anti-Brexit agenda for weeks by showing the “plummeting British stock market.” The influential political radio station Europe 1 blasted the Brexit vote by inviting (of all people) Tony Blair on the air, reassuring listeners that “it is possible to find a deal for the UK to remain part of the European Union.”

France’s Earlier Referendum 

In 2005 the French electorate said “No” to the EU constitution. The reason for that was that French voters feared that the EU would impose “a neoliberal economic model” and reduce the standards of social security in the member states. In response, then-president Nicolas Sarkozy teamed with other European leaders a backroom deal called the Treaty of Lisbon, but made it quite clear that there would not be a vote on this new treaty at all. The Dutch and French failures to pass treaties through the referenda process taught the EU a lesson: referenda shouldn’t be allowed.

The EU is Insurance for the French Regime

This is by far the most important part of this argument that absolutely needs to be made: France was a strong voice for solidarity in the Irish and Greek bailouts, with support from the public, because the EU and its central bank will be France’s best insurance policy in the next crisis.

French politicians have learned from the legacy of François Mitterrand. In the early years of his administration, Mitterrand set to work implementing a variety of hard-left policies. These policies so crippled the French economy that Mitterrand was forced to take a hard pro-market turn just a few years later. Many French politicians today still believe Mitterrand compromised far too much. 

For this new breed of pro-EU leftist politicians, the strategy is clear: it’s full speed ahead. No reforms, no apologies. Should hard left policies appear to fail this time around, well, the European Central Bank can just step in. Since the European Central Bank must deal with the consequences of France’s drain on the euro, the rest of the continent will have to bailout the République, where even outside of a crisis, the French debt level is among the highest in Europe at almost 100% of GDP

Lifestyle & InnovationPolitics & The World

Just early this year, the newly formed Women´s Equality Party emerged in the United Kingdom, founded by journalist Catherine Mayer and comedian Sandi Toksvig. It was inspired by the events at the Women of the World Festival in London this March where a consensus for the need of gender equality in society was reached. Since its official registration in June and the election of Sophie Walker as its leader, the party counts rising memberships and has already 67 branches around the country. Its main aim is as the party name states: equality.

This concept is split up into six core principles: equal representation in politics, the judiciary and businesses; equal education; equal pay; equal treatment for women in and by the media; equal parenting and an end to violence against women. These objectives are the focus for the party and are perceived as realistically achievable.

Catherine Mayer recently stated that the party does not aim to run the country or solve any complex international issues. Rather it aims to spark a mainstream political debate and to put those principles on the agenda of the country’s leading political parties. They do not provide a full range of policies on all issues instead choosing to keep a clear focus on equality for women. The Women´s Equality Party wants to increase awareness of women´s issues across the government. Prior to the formation of the Women´s Equality Party, similar strategies have been used by the Green Party and Ukip in their respective campaigns. By addressing specific issues and attracting voters from the mainstream parties, they had to take their subjects seriously.

Further, the party´s interim branch secretary for Bristol, Jessica Read, explained that women should not be seen as a special interest group and there should not be a need for a Women´s Equality Party to exist in the first place. The growing support enjoyed by the party reflects the ignorance of mainstream political parties that have failed to address gender equality seriously. On the political spectrum, the party places itself to be a neither right nor left-wing but non-partisan. It adopts a unique approach towards its members, as it encourages anyone complying with the six core principles to join – irrespective of an existing association with another party.

Their first official act was a call for quotas of a 50-50 gender balance to reach equal representation in the House of Commons by 2025. Currently, the UK parliament consists of 649 MP’s, 72% (458) are men and less than a third (191) are women. Sophie Walker says that she is well aware that quotas are a quick fix. But how effective are quotas?

Generally, quotas as a political means are disputed. Some women fear that it is a means of acquiring power based on a mandated policy and not on professional skills or experience. Nonetheless, the party claims that a system close to equal power distribution is not yet in place and quotas can speed up that process immensely.

However, the party had to endure some criticism. Particularly in terms of economic equality, it is accused of only representing middle-class white women’s interests. There are economic factors that have an effect on women´s lives other than the gender pay gap. Women of colour and transsexual women face severe difficulties in the economic sector, such as lower rates of pay and higher unemployment rates compared to white men and women.

Also social class can be a factor as a majority of the lowest social class are women. They would suffer most from the tax credit cuts in the proposed government benefit reforms. This was not sufficiently addressed by the party. Jessica Read acknowledges the importance of addressing these issues more and declares that the Women´s Equality Party can only be successful if it includes all women. She also refers to the fact that after all, the party is still in its baby steps.

In the near future, the party prepares to participate in the elections for the devolved assemblies and local councils during Spring next year. This could increase the pressure for main parties to take the Women´s Equality Party agenda more sincerely into account. In the long run, it would be ideal if there would be no reason for the party to exist. The party leaders hope to dissolve the party in 2020 as it would mean that equality for women has been installed. Only time will tell us, if the Women´s Equality Party can achieve that goal.

Image taken from Flickr, by DonkeyHotey.