Jean-Luc Melenchon may seem to be the polar opposite of Marine Le Pen but my bet is that the run off in the French presidential election is between these two and the left-wing candidate may end up the next President of the Republique. Social media feeds have these two well out in front. To the French voter they both bring the promise of ending decades of high unemployment (especially youth) and ‘nationalist’ fervor. Both are anti-EU. Melenchon wants to pull France out of NATO. Melenchon is not dissimilar to Le Pen on immigration either suggesting he’d want to bring in 10,000 doctors rather than unlimited migration which he openly says steals French jobs. Melenchon is anti-Merkel and her Eurozone policies. He wants a 100% tax on salaries over 400,000 euro and bump minimum wages 16%. He wants to be 100% renewable by 2050 promising 100,000s of green jobs in the process which have shown elsewhere (e.g, Australia) to fall well short. Either way the markets are not pricing a polar outcome. If either wins, it is a loss for the EU although expect Juncker to champion it as a victory for the club if Melenchon is anointed.
Le Pen has had much longer to form her base. She speaks eloquently, forcefully and carries a consistent policy line unlike Fillon or Macron who have shifted stance with the wind. People who are struggling around the world are seen tiring of spineless bureaucrats. Traditional party lines are increasingly irrelevant. They want a reversal of fortune not served a buffet of convenient lies which in no way reflects the life they struggle with everyday. Melenchon is not removed from this phenomenon. Nor is Le Pen.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Melenchon is channeling his Beppo Grillo than Hugo Chavez. I can see his appeal to the battler. The question is whether the French people, should they be given these two to choose between on May 7, stay at home in abject apathy or tap their inner-revolutionary to carry the tricolor. Melenchon maybe trailing on social media feeds but his growth is faster than Le Pen, something that was striking in the US election.
The only certainty in my view is another torpedo to the hull of Brussels, the viability of the euro project and the euro itself. That will only play in Theresa May’s favour on June 8. Think of the French presidential election much like the national rugby team. They play hot or cold and you can never be sure until the whistle blows.
When the dust settles I will be fascinated to see which areas vote which way. Let’s accept the views from both Le Pen and Melenchon are broadly similar (although getting there will be totally different) so the vote may swing to how sick and tired French are becoming of giving up their freedoms.