Next spring's French presidential election is going to get a lot more international attention than is normally the case. And that is because, in the midst of our present anti-globalism backlash, whoever becomes the next leader of France will change the political direction of Europe and indeed the world.
France's center-right Republican Party recently chose Francois Fillon as its candidate to challenge the ruling Socialists for the presidency. The election's first round will be held in April. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, the candidates who placed first and second will stand in a runoff election in May. Currently, polls show this May showdown is likely to be between Fillon and Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme right wing National Front party.
President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party is set to announce its presidential candidate in January. However, Hollande's poll numbers are at rock bottom, and observers believe that neither he nor any other candidate from his party will make it into the presidential election's second round.
Le Pen's policy proposals include extreme restrictions on immigration and a national referendum on leaving the European Union.
Britain has already chosen to leave the EU, while the United States has elected as its next president Donald Trump, a man who campaigned on promises of an immigration crackdown and trade protectionism under the slogan "Make America Great Again." If Le Pen rides this wave of angry nativism to the Elysee Palace, we worry that the world will become increasingly fractured, divided against itself.
After World War II, much of Europe sought ways to integrate the continent so as to make any repeat of the horrors of 1939-1945 impossible. The result of these efforts was the EU, which France helped found, and France and Germany remain the core of the union.
If France moves to leave the EU, it will likely shake the very foundations of European stability.
France is also a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), meaning the results of the French election will also reverberate in global affairs. Should France follow the same "my country above all" path as fellow UNSC members Britain and the U.S. at the same time as China and Russia move to challenge the current international order, global stability could also be put at risk.
Republican candidate Fillon has work to do. He promised during the party primaries to make severe cuts to the civil service, relax restrictions on working hours, and otherwise implement bold structural reform to reinvigorate the French economy. His platform also took on shades of the hard right, with severe stances against Muslims and marriage equality, and promises to restrict immigration. Fillon looks like he will have a hard time attracting the support of labor or liberal voters.
Hopes for European stability lie heavily on the shoulders of Germany's Angela Merkel. U.S. President Barack Obama has praised Merkel as sharing his own principles of freedom and democracy. However, it is asking a great deal for Merkel to bear the responsibility of upholding these principles on her own. She has come under domestic criticism for her open refugee policy, and likely faces a bitter electoral challenge of her own come next autumn's German federal election.
We call on the next president of France to cooperate with Germany to stop Europe from fracturing further from terror and refugee fears. We call on France to be a leading light in efforts to maintain the stability of our world.