On April 23, France will hold its most unpredictable presidential elections since World War II.
For the first time in recent history, the candidates from two non-mainstream parties, Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! and Marine Le Pen of the National Front, might face each other in the runoff.
The chances of the Socialist Party’s candidate, Benoit Hamon, of winning the first round are very slim after the failure of the Hollande administration to maintain security and to generate economic growth.
The terrorist attacks in Paris of November 2015 and the Bastille Day attack in Nice of July 2016 have found the Hollande administration unprepared and have undermined French support for the Socialist Party.
The French economy has not recovered since the economic crisis of 2008, and Hollande’s policy of imposing high tax rates has caused a capital flight to Britain, Belgium, and other low-tax countries rather than bringing additional revenue to France.
The discontent of the French people with the current administration has benefited the populist, nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen, who expressed an anti-globalist and anti-European stance. Her views drew her support from Russia which would benefit from a weakening of both the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union.
In 2002, the leader of the National Front Jean-Marie Le Pen was defeated in the runoff by a coalition of Gaullists and Socialists who supported his opponent, Jacques Chirac. This time such a solution might not work because French voters are dissatisfied with both mainstream parties.
To channel such discontent away from the populist right of Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron founded a new political party, En Marche! which has emerged as the real contender of Marine Le Pen. Most French polls show him as the likely winner in a runoff with Le Pen.
However, this scenario does not take into consideration external influences that might affect the outcome of the elections, in particular the risk of Russian interference, which could release compromising information to bring down Macron after he will emerge as the challenger of Le Pen in the first round of voting.
A victory of the Le Pen would likely cause France to exit from the European Union, and since France and Germany are the two most influential countries in the E.U, a Frexit could eventually lead to the dissolution of the European Union.
France needs economic deregulation to attract foreign investments. Instead than leaving the European Union, France should play a more assertive role to counter-balance Germany (especially after Brexit), and increase security cooperation with other European countries to prevent the threat of terrorism. Neither Le Pen nor Hamon would implement such policies.
It is the interest of the United States that the European Union remains united because it is easier for America, both politically and economically, to deal with one interlocutor in Europe rather than several divided countries.
Unlike Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron and the candidate of the center-right, Francois Fillion, promised to keep French membership in NATO, which is playing an essential role in containing Russian expansionism and maintaining security in Africa.
The Trump administration has expressed U.S. support to NATO last February on occasion of Vice President Pence’s visit to the Munich Security Conference.
From an American perspective, Fillion and Macron represent the best choices to protect U.S. interests in Europe.
Francesco Stipo is the President of the Houston Energy Club, a member of the National Press Club in Washington D.C., a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science, and recently joined the Bretton Woods Committee. Born in Italy in 1973, Dr. Stipo is a naturalized United States citizen. He holds a Ph.D. in International Law and a Master Degree in Comparative Law from the University of Miami.