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France’s election: Why European affairs should matter to students at SLU

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As university students, the results of the French election may seem peripheral, if not totally irrelevant, to our lives. However, this election will determine who we are as a global society and the path in which we are headed. The recent political movements indicate that many people across the Western world are discontented with the state of society and are willing to risk fracturing the world economy in order to bring about political change. Although SLU students may feel that the political affairs within the United States are more important than those elsewhere, we must recognize that the prosperity of Europe is linked to our own.

France’s presidential election could determine the fate of the European Union (EU) and the integrity of the interconnected world economy. Based on last Sunday’s first-round results, there is hope that a leader who values stability will emerge victorious. However, uncertainty remains.

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, each political outsiders, have advanced to a runoff election that will occur on May 7. The results of the runoff will determine the next French president. Macron received about 24 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 21.3 percent. Although Macron had a plurality of the vote, his relatively small margin of victory is vaguely concerning.

Le Pen, a member of the National Front party, represents France’s anti-immigrant and anti-European Union sentiments. Her candidacy corresponds to that of Donald Trump, sharing his message of putting the country’s needs before the international order’s. Le Pen has campaigned on restricting immigration and making France “more French,” and she has attacked the reigning political order.

Macron has also criticized the political establishment, but he maintains centrist political positions. He founded his own political party, En Marche!, last April and has never held elected office. He previously was a member of the French Socialist Party, aligning with its right wing, and has held appointed positions in the French government.

Most prominently, Macron supports the EU and free markets. Le Pen, meanwhile, wants to orchestrate France’s departure from the EU, and she intends to institute a number of hazardous protectionist economic policies. If France leaves the EU, the union is doomed. The Euro, a hugely important currency, would lose legitimacy. The economic consequences of a “Frexit” would be catastrophic.

Trade barriers would grow between countries, and free trade, which lowers the costs of goods to consumers and encourages economic efficiency, would suffer. Europe would soon see grave economic damage, and this damage would spread across global markets. The U.S., with its ties to the European economy, would also feel the pain of massive changes to the global economy. Jobs in both Europe and the U.S. would dry up as fewer economic interactions occur between countries.

Although Le Pen and her supporters are not wrong to say that the current system has flaws, dismantling the EU in order to put France first is not worth a major economic disruption that would hurt French people and the rest of the world.

To destroy the EU would also only lead to a world less safe from international aggression. The EU was created in part to prevent another great war from occurring. Trade is thought to reduce the likelihood of conflict between countries resulting in an attack; as the benefits of trade increase, war seems less attractive. Europe may be more connected through infrastructure and social norms than it was during the first half of the 20th century, but our world should always do what it can to reduce the likelihood of conflict between countries.

Putting aside the immense economic risks and the increased possibility of conflict, Le Pen’s rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims living in France is dangerous. A person who espouses her hateful ideas should not occupy a position of power. SLU students, a group of people who should be concerned with the welfare of others, should be concerned with the impact that Le Pen would have on marginalized groups.

As students at SLU, we cannot vote or do much of anything to influence the outcome of the French election, but we should make ourselves aware of these events occurring across the Atlantic. Although they may not seem to matter to our daily lives, they inform us on the more familiar developments of our society. By drawing parallels between France and America, we can better understand our world.

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France’s election: Why European affairs should matter to students at SLU