After five pitiful years of Socialist governance, the presidential and legislative elections could have marked the comeback of the French right. Corruption scandals aside, François Fillon could have been the one taking France on the right track. However, the results of the first round of legislative elections suggest En Marche is to become the dominant actor in French politics. Such an overwhelming majority suggests that the failure of the French right cannot merely to be blamed on its leader’s corruption scandal, but rather that there is a problem with ideas, or more exactly the lack thereof.
Where in the Anglosphere successful free-market and libertarian-leaning parties were able to blossom, in France this has not happened. This has effectively meant that to be an ‘‘acceptable’’ party, the French right has for too long settled for the ‘middle ground’, which, in the words of Keith Joseph, always leads to a ‘left-wing ratchet’. In a day and age when French politics is dramatically changing, the French right has to seize this opportunity and reform itself along the lines of classical liberalism.
Les Républicains should commit to giving a referendum on French EU membership. There is a demand amongst French people to be given a say on France’s EU membership. Furthermore, this would be a way to attract Eurosceptic Front National voters. From a classical liberal point of view, the case against EU membership is a simple one: the great paradox of the EU is that it is pro-market as far as exchanges are conducted between member states whilst it is protectionist as far as the outside world is concerned. This is not to mention the EU’s deep economic structural flaws. What is more, in spite of its lack of competiveness and reluctance to conduct necessary labour market reforms, France remains the world’s sixth largest economy. There is therefore little doubt that if France were to regain its monetary independence and use it wisely, it may fare even better. Les Républicains should also highlight that it is also a matter of political sovereignty, and that intra-state cooperation does not need to undermine democracy.
In the economic sphere, François Fillon’s proposals were by far the best. It combined a well-thought out and honest fiscal plan with a move towards free-market stances. This is the way to go. If Les Républicains are to make a difference, they need to differentiate themselves from Emmanuel Macron’s revamped socialism, and be upfront with the fact that there is no alternative to the free-market if we are to take France out of the economic vicious circle it currently finds itself in. There is no doubt that this will be no easy task, and this is why the following point perhaps matters the most:
Les Républicains must lead a revolution of the individual. In a legacy that can be traced back to the French Revolution, French politics has been pervaded by egalitarianism. In France, the influence of egalitarianism is to be found in so many aspects: the education system, the dominance of the public sector, the reluctance to give up on social privileges. For as long as we will not start affirming the primacy of the individual, and one’s freedom to study, work and provide for oneself, one will not be able to rectify France’s economic woes. If the French education system does not top rankings, it is because it does not allow students to thrive according to their abilities. If the labour market is proving so difficult to reform, it is because the idea that employment is exploitation is too often accepted, and if we find it so difficult to reduce debt as percentage of GDP it is because welfare provisions are sacralised. Put in a nutshell, it is time to remember that the French Revolution was not just about equality, but also about liberty.
These are currently niche ideas in France, and by running on this platform Les Républicains could finally set a clear ideological divide line with left-wing parties. This is especially important since Mr Macron’s party has effectively absorbed the Socialist Party and moved towards the centre, which has contributed to a greater ideological blur between En Marche and Les Républicains. From a French point of view, these are bold ideas, but the electorate has manifested its eagerness for change, and accordingly if the Les Républicains are to offer change, they first need to change themselves.