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French election shows changing attitudes in Europe

Josh Brody, Columnist

On April 23, 2017, France held the first round of its presidential election narrowing the field to two candidates: Emmanuel Macron of the center-left "En Marche!" party and Marine Le Pen of the right-wing National Front. The two will face-off on May 7 to determine the presidency. Although foreign elections are not heavily followed by U.S. media, this one is notably similar to the election in the United States this past November and could also be a turning point for Europe.

Although Macron is not a political veteran to the extent of Hillary Clinton, he represents globalism, free markets and a liberal immigration policy. He is a former investment banker who was Deputy-Secretary General from 2012 to 2014 and Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs from 2014 until 2016.

Le Pen, on the other hand, promotes a protectionist economy, secularism, and the closing of French borders for additional immigration. She wants France to withdraw from the European Union. The National Front Party was once considered a fringe far-right party with antisemitic and racist undertones. Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine's father and the party's founder, once said that the gas chambers of the Holocaust were "just a detail in the history of World War II." The younger Le Pen has made several efforts to improve the image of the party including removing her father from the party and branding the National Front as the protector of the working class and restorer of historical greatness to France, essentially a policy of "Make France Great Again." Her efforts have paid off tremendously. A party that was once considered a radical and insignificant group gained a majority of France's seats in the European Parliament in 2014 and now has the opportunity to hold the presidency.

Although neither candidate is entirely similar to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, this runoff election is very similar to this past November's in the U.S. Far left candidates such as Bernie Sanders in the US and Jean-Luc Melenchon of France were defeated early on, leaving center-left Clinton and Machon, and right-wing Trump and Le Pen.

France is facing many serious economic and security concerns including high unemployment among youth, Islamist terrorism and generally high levels of crime in certain areas. Le Pen favors a hardliner protectionist approach which includes increasing border security, reducing immigration and potentially leaving the European Union and NATO. To some extent, Le Pen resembles Trump's intentions to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S., reduce travel and immigration from certain countries and leave international agreements such as NAFTA. Will this hardliner, protectionist approach be what it takes to alleviate the problems that plague France, Europe and the world? Only time will tell.