SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
France's presidential runoff elections are just a week away. Its predicted outcome has blown wide open in the past few weeks. To the horror of France's political and economic elites, far left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon is catching up to the two frontrunners; the centrist Emmanuel Macron, and far right candidate Marine Le Pen. According to recent polls, all three currently have around 20% to 23% of the vote.
If no candidate gets at least 50% of the vote on April 23rd, there will be a second round to be held on May 7th. This means that there might be a runoff between far-right Le Pen, and far-left Mélenchon. According to The Guardian newspaper, Mélenchon is an acid-tongued political showman, with a radical tax and spend platform.
He's now just 5 or 6 points behind. According to The Guardian, some recent polls have placed him third, ahead of scandal-hit center right candidate François Fillon.
Let's take a look at one of Mélenchon's campaign rallies in the city of Lille, where he has been attracting large crowds.
JEAN-LUC MÉLENCHON: (French)
TRANSLATOR: Imagine there's a new European treaty on the table. Who do you want to send to negotiate it? Someone who's already said they want to suck up to Merkel and be Europe's teacher's pet? Or someone who holds their ground and says it's impossible to have a free community, with free people, if you refuse social harmonization, if you refuse fiscal harmonization? That's what youre currently doing.
SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us now to discuss and analyze the recent turn of events in France's presidential election is Renaud Lambert. Renaud is an editor of the monthly newspaper, Le Monde Diplomatique.
Thanks for joining us, Renaud.
RENAUD LAMBERT: Thank you for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: Renaud, let me start off with your take on the presidential race that's developing and what do you think these recent polls suggest?
RENAUD LAMBERT: Well, Sharmini, any time you've invited me to talk on the French election you've asked me, so, who's going to win? And I've refused to answer your question because I knew I was going to say stupid things, because no one can predict what is going to happen.
A couple of weeks ago, I think when we last talked, it seemed like Marine Le Pen, far right, and Emmanuel Macron I guess center right, but neo-liberal were set to go into the second round. And now things are settling. A candidate is rising: Jean-Luc Mélenchon. What is happening basically is that he suddenly has inched above the traditional left wing candidate, the socialist party candidate, and has become the strategic vote.
Therefore, it means that people who favored Mélenchon did not need to think that they would vote for another candidate better placed to gain the election, to win the election, they could actually vote for Mélenchon. Who, as you said, is a very acid-tongued, very funny character, and has a very appealing platform to most of the people in France, people who had been receiving a battering from the European crisis.
SHARMINI PERIES: And give us a sense of who Mélenchon is. He was far behind as a candidate, but he's gaining momentum and we didn't expect that. Why?
RENAUD LAMBERT: Mélenchon comes from the socialist party, which he left following the 2005 vote on the European Constitution. He voted against it, and decided that the way the socialist party had behaved during that election couldn't stand by him. And he has built this character, this platform, whereby he presented it to the people, that in order to implement a left-wing politics, you need to leave the European Union.
He was, for a long time, the sole candidate to actually say that. Very timidly, at first, in 2012 he suggested that we needed to renegotiate. And he's taking a much firmer stance at the moment.
People know him. People know he's got the gift of the gab, you know? He's a funny character. And there were a couple of TV debates where he was above all of the people, whether you liked him or not, whether you agreed with him or not. He was witty. He could reply. He was a lot better, and people took to him.
Some people were already convinced. And, as I said, the strategic vote has disappeared. All four main candidates at this stage are around 20%. Which means that you can actually go for who you prefer.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And then if, say, he makes it to the runoff against, say, Marine Le Pen, what do you think will happen? Who will the French vote for?
RENAUD LAMBERT: (laughs) You keep asking me to predict, Sharmini, which I will not do. At this stage, if you listen to the polls, they say that Mélenchon would win. But I think things with France would change even before we got into the second round. The two candidates are in favor of massively changing the European Union.
So, you would have a massive reaction from the markets. They would be attacking France; they would be attacking the euro. There would be massive capital flight from France. And the period between the first run and the second run would be a very, very traumatic period for France. Because a new power would be about to get in, whether Le Pen or Mélenchon, but they would not be able to implement their policies to counteract, to impede, that capital flight.
Anyway, France is set to make a massive statement to Europe, I think. Because both Le Pen and Mélenchon are suggesting that Europe is not working, which is a point that needs to be made. Although their solution to mend it or to change the way society is run and France is obviously opposite.
SHARMINI PERIES: And, Renaud, this is a significant vote, not only for France, but for Europe as a whole. I mean, if you put all the major countries together in Europe Germany, France, U.K. and others it is a geopolitical powerhouse. And, in fact, when it comes to geopolitics, and strategic geopolitics, and the U.S. alliance with Europe, and so on, it's a very important... both economically, and in terms of foreign policy, and in terms of geostrategic alliances, and so forth.
So, if we actually successfully have somebody like Mélenchon in power in France, how would that change European politics?
RENAUD LAMBERT: Well, I think the point to make is that although we don't know what is going to happen, a victory by Mélenchon would only be the start to a massive struggle. For left wing forces, Mélenchon winning would not be sufficient to achieve what we want to achieve, you know? We would have to start the struggle the day afterwards. You know, going into the streets, helping him obtain what he's standing for.
You're right. Geopolitically, this would be an earthquake. We'd be looking at probably the collapse of the euro. It would be a possibility. That would mean the collapse, to a certain extent, of the European Union. This would have to rearrange itself according to what geometry, who knows, and who knows what the reaction in Germany is going to be.
But I think at this stage, you know, forces that were suffering from globalization and the way Europe was being built have been put under the lid for such a long time that we are going to see explosions. And I would much prefer and I think people are coming to realize - that an explosion led organized by Mélenchon would favor the working class, you know, humble people, a lot more than an explosion led by identity-led xenophobic politics, such as the one Marine Le Pen is standing for.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Renaud, I thank you much for joining us, and I have a feeling we'll have you back next week. Thanks so much.
RENAUD LAMBERT: Thank you, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.