After the European elections, President Macron takes a gamble

After the European elections, President Macron takes a gamble

Adam Gopnik writes:

In the classic days of the Republic of Venice, you could lodge a complaint against the government by slipping a paper into the bocca di leone, the lion’s mouth, a kind of proto postal box. The lions’ mouths were distributed around town and were often highly specified: this one to get hot over taxes, this one to complain about garbage in the canal. Their purpose was not just, as some imagine, secret denunciation but also open protest; the authorities would witness the disquiet, register the grievance, and then, possibly, do something about it.

The just-concluded elections for the European Parliament have some of the character of lion’s-mouth communication on a continental scale. The European Parliament is, like the Venetian Senate, mostly a pro-forma talking shop with limited power: actual political power still resides in the national governments, while the power to initiate and implement all those European rules and decrees with which “Brussels” supposedly encumbers its members—such as classifying bananas according to how bendy they are—remains largely in the hands of the bureaucrats and technocrats of the European Commission.

Yet the election results have meaning, and they have been cast, rather too narrowly but understandably, as another victory for the extreme right—a victory particularly noxious in France and Germany, where more or less openly neo-fascist parties won startlingly large shares of the vote. In France, the R.N., or Rassemblement National (formerly the Front National), won the most seats, under the guidance of Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the movement’s notorious antisemitic founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen. That outcome, though not entirely unanticipated, led President Emmanuel Macron to dissolve the National Assembly and call for new parliamentary elections, which will be held in two rounds, later this month and then in July.

The rise of the far right in Europe might help Americans deprovincialize their own crisis. The single wave has struck many coastlines. Whatever is happening is happening everywhere. Why what is happening is happening everywhere is still under scrutiny, with the same explanations offered in Europe that are already familiar to Americans. The popular notion, intended to rationalize the irrational—that what is happening is a revolt of those dispossessed by globalization against neoliberalism or the like—seems as empty there as it does here. Jean-Yves Dormagen, a leading French pollster, sliced and diced the results for the magazine Le Point, and noted that the R.N. electorate—like the Trumpite one in 2020—is largely old and rural and relatively rich, though also, as in the U.S., less educated. And, as in the U.S., the real divide is cultural: country against city, old against young, people with diplomas against people without them.

The nameable cause of this general revolt is a fear of what’s perceived to be uncontrolled immigration. This involves both the movement, over several generations, of new ethnicities and old faiths into Europe and also the more recent crisis cap of hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers arriving via the Greek islands and southern Italy. No country, including the United States, has ever dealt happily with the panic, no matter how unfounded, prompted by mass migration, legal or clandestine, and the Europeans are doing no better. The rural foundation of the populist impulse also involves a revolt against European agricultural regulation associated with continent-wide efforts to address climate change. The rural protest in Europe is, ironically, anti-green. [Continue reading…]

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