Europe’s elections




This article appeared in the Tribune Live on May 13, 2017. Click here to view the original article.

By John Bolton
May 13, 2017

Recent elections in France and the United Kingdom, with more to come in the next few months, bring important consequences for the United States. Unfortunately, press coverage here has either been scarce or inadequate, leaving Americans in the dark about what is really going on across the Atlantic.

While France’s presidential election (the second round of voting was May 7) received coverage, it was highly superficial, providing little insight regarding the equally important parliamentary elections scheduled for June 11 and 18.

And the outcome of Great Britain’s stunning local elections on May 4 went almost unnoticed despite their clear implications for the U.K.’s June 8 nationwide vote for the House of Commons.

Moreover, German national elections fall on Sept. 24, and Italy could hold elections later this year or in early 2018.

The European Union remains in serious trouble, suffering from widespread voter discontent across the continent for its remoteness and lack of democratic accountability. Troublesome, divisive issues like international terrorism, migration from the Middle East, the faltering common currency and increasing Russian assertiveness in Eastern and Central Europe have sapped Europe’s energy and willingness to work effectively with America on global threats.

In France’s election, Marine Le Pen’s Front National party lost the second round by a substantial, larger-than-expected margin. The FN suffered from earlier, unrealistically high predictions from many commentators that she could conceivably win the presidential runoff against former socialist cabinet member Emmanuel Macron. Nonetheless, she nearly doubled the vote her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, received in the 2002 runoff when he lost to President Jacques Chirac by an 82- to 18-percent margin.

EXPECTATIONS OVERSTATED

The commentators’ expectations (fears, really) that Le Pen could win were overstated to begin with. Similarly, the elation of the same commentators and pro-EU political elites that Le Pen’s defeat means that her issues and supporters can now be disregarded is equally misplaced.

Despite the entire French establishment uniting against her, Le Pen’s appeal to voters reached across the political spectrum. While much of Le Pen’s platform is highly objectionable (not least, her traditionally French dirigiste economic policy), her improvement on her father’s performance shows that the FN (even if now renamed) has not only not faded, it has become a major player in French politics.

In the crucial upcoming parliamentary elections, Le Pen faces a critical test to translate her support at the presidential level into seats in France’s parliament. FN candidates often do well in the first round of voting, but they rarely obtain second-round majorities. Le Pen’s sizeable vote could indicate that voters are prepared to vote for her parliamentary candidates in the second round, thereby significantly increasing the FN’s parliamentary representation.

Macron may thus have won the presidency but be unable to govern without a clear parliamentary majority. France’s future direction is still far from certain.

In Britain, by contrast, Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call a snap House of Commons election in June is increasingly likely to be vindicated. In the just-concluded local council elections, the extent of the Tory victory is hard to overstate. Conservatives gained 563 local council seats, an increase of over 40 percent, to a total of 1,899. U.K. Independence Party supporters returned to the Conservatives in droves, reducing UKIP’s council seats from 146 to 1. Labour was hammered, dropping 382 seats, 25 percent of its pre-election total. The Scottish Nationalist Party, hoping to build momentum for a second independence referendum, did the opposite, losing seats. And the Liberal-Democrats, praying for a post-Brexit resurgence, lost ground, giving up nearly 10 percent of their council seats.

Thus, with nearly a month until the general election, all signs indicate a decisive win for Prime Minister May. Labour is fragmented and effectively leaderless, and Tory support in the local elections grew nationwide, gaining seats in Wales and Scotland in numbers unseen in decades.

Domestically, May will be free from parliamentary harassment and obstruction, assuming she can keep a large Conservative majority moving in the same direction. Labour and the Liberal-Democrats have proven feckless opponents, and UKIP may be on the verge of extinction. And if the Scottish Nationalist Party’s performance declines or even remains steady, momentum toward Scottish independence could be blunted permanently.

The United States needs a strong Europe. But that is far from the same thing as a strong European Union. France’s presidential election will not rescue the EU from its problems and may simply camouflage them, giving false hopes looking ahead. The U.K.’s election, by contrast, signals a confident Britain that knows it wants out of the EU swamp — and knows who it wants to lead the U.K. to full independence. We will know more by the end of June.

John Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and, previously, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.

ABOUT JOHN BOLTON

Ambassador John Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. He served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 2005-2006. He was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security from 2001 to 2005. In the Reagan Administration, he was an Assistant Attorney General.