Can the French presidential election be saved?

16 NOVEMBRE 2021 by https://www.lemonde.fr/

With less than five months to go before the first round, what can we expect from the French presidential election scheduled for next April? The question can be asked at two levels: that of the 2022 election, and the broader question of the place of the presidential election in the French political system.

As far as the 2022 election is concerned, we have to admit that it is not off to a good start. Given the increasing tendency of the political landscape towards the extreme right-wing, an evolution to which Macronism in power is no stranger, it has become almost impossible to debate the major social and economic issues that will structure our common future.

To win the battle for emancipation, intelligence and human capital, the central issue remains investment in education and training. Unfortunately, the latest figures from the 2022 finance law are clear: public spending per student has fallen by 14% in France between 2008 and 2022 (-7% since 2017). This is a monumental waste for the country and its youth. It is urgent that the candidates commit themselves to precise objectives allowing universities to finally have the same means as the selective courses and to develop the multidisciplinary courses and the levels of supervision that students need.

To meet the climate challenge, we know that efforts will have to be better distributed and that the wealthiest will have to pay more in taxation. Exempting the wealthiest from all taxation, even though they have tripled in number in France over the past 10 years, is economic stupidity and ideological blindness. This abandonment of any ambition in terms of fiscal sovereignty and social justice aggravates the separatism of the richest and feeds the headlong rush towards regalian and identity issues.

But whatever we do to ignore the primacy of social issues and inequalities, reality will rapidly return. In France, the poorest 50% have a carbon footprint of barely 5 tonnes per capita, compared to 25 tonnes for the richest 10% and 79 tonnes for the richest 1%. Solutions that consist in taxing everyone at the same rate, like the carbon tax at the beginning of the five-year term, make little sense and can never be accepted.

We could multiply the subjects: local taxation must be rethought to allow the poorest municipalities and their inhabitants to have the same opportunities as others; the pension system must become universal and fair, with an emphasis on small and medium-sized pensions; a new sharing of power must be applied between employees and shareholders in the governance of companies; the fight against discrimination must become an assumed and measurable priority.

The candidates must also say whether they will be satisfied with the minimalist 15% rate on multinationals or whether they will commit to raising this rate unilaterally to 25%, as recommended by the European Tax Observatory, and to sharing the revenue with the countries of the South, which are severely affected by global warming and underdevelopment.

Beyond these necessary unilateral decisions, it is urgent to propose to our European partners the setting up of a transnational Assembly that would allow for the adoption of common social, fiscal, budgetary and environmental measures by a majority. This can probably only be done initially with a few countries. The issue is nonetheless crucial: the laborious debates on the recovery plan have shown the limits of unanimity among the 27, and we cannot rely forever on the sole action of the European Central Bank, whose democratic and parliamentary supervision must also be strengthened.

All these debates will to some extent take place, but they are rendered largely inaudible by the fragmentation of the candidacies on the left. The fact that the leaders concerned (Insoumis, Socialists, Ecologists, Communists, etc.) do not understand that what brings them together is far more important than what separates them, is appalling. If we want to save the presidential election, it is urgent that the different candidates meet to debate what they have in common and their differences and that the left-wing voters arbitrate these differences between now and January.

The weakness of the current debate also shows once again the evils of French-style presidentialism. We will definitely not return to the indirect election of the president, and full proportional representation is not a panacea either. Beyond the necessary strengthening of the rights of parliament and the inversion of the electoral calendar, the French democratic system needs to be ventilated by introducing new forms of citizen participation, in particular with the popular initiative referendum. The number of signatories required under the 2008 constitutional revision is absurdly high, and only a new revision could unblock the situation. The presidential debate in 2022 could be an opportunity to move forward on this point.

This is provided that the key issue of political campaign financing is also included, as it risks corrupting referendum democracy as much as representative democracy if not properly addressed. Proposals have been made to drastically reduce the weight of private donations and to introduce vouchers for democratic equality. They have started to be taken up by candidates and parliamentarians, and there is no reason why they cannot be adopted even before the next elections, which could help restore faith in politics.

The general lesson is clear: in order to save the presidential election, citizens and elected representatives of all tendencies must also and above all mobilise to overcome presidentialism.