Yesterday, voters turned away from France’s traditional political establishment, sending far-right Marine Le Pen and independent candidate Emmanuel Macron to the next round of elections.  

Le Pen came in second with 21.7 percent of the vote, while Macron won the plurality with 23.9 percent. The candidates run on very different platforms – Le Pen is anti-immigration and has threatened a French exit from the European Union, while Macron is a pro-European centrist.

Mark Blyth, a professor of political economy at Brown University, said the result of France’s first-round election echoes global trends like Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, which stem from income inequality.

“For certain people in the world, things have gone really really great. For others, we are looking at the desertification of cities and a lack of real growth,” Blyth said. “You see that in the rejection of mainstream politics across all the rich developed countries.”

Credit: wisegie, Flickr La Pen to face Macron in the next round of the French elections.
Credit: wisegie, Flickr Le Pen to face Macron in the next round of the French election.

Xenophobia also led to Le Pen’s rise, according to J. Nicholas Ziegler, a professor of international and public affairs at Brown.

“There is little doubt that large segments of the French electorate feel that the government is not properly managing the current flows of migration,” Ziegler said. “A subset of those people are simply anti-foreigner and would like to restrict the benefits of citizenship to more traditional definitions of what it means to be ‘French.'”

If Le Pen wins, Ziegler says it will be a major step forward for a movement towards a new, anti-globalization nationalism. “Whether or not [globalization] is completely stopping and the major democracies are reverting to some kind of anti-globalization form of nationalism – that’s what is really what is at stake at the second round in France.”

The next round of elections will occur on May 7. Ziegler and Blyth both say that the results could threaten European stability and the survival of the European Union. If Le Pen wins, she will likely embrace a “Frexit.”

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