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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/29/16

Welcome to the Fillon-Le Pen cage match

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Marine Le Pen
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He came (from behind); he saw; he won. Francois Fillon will be the candidate of the French Right in the 2017 presidential elections, and he stands a very good chance of winning, in the second round, against Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen.

Fillon is an ultra-traditionalist, family values, "Christian roots of France" kind of guy. In American terms, he would be a "French nationalist" -- without the derogatory subtexts. His mantra revolves around the historic strength of French national identity (from Jeanne D'Arc to Voltaire), the basis of national sovereignty, which should be re-emphasized again and again.

Add to the agenda a very hard tack on immigration and on a vague, indistinct "Islam" that's not conceptualized, as stressing the stark difference between Islam as a religion of peace and Salafi-jihadism as an offshoot of Wahhabism. The French establishment simply cannot afford to antagonize influential client-states/investors such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The most specific Fillon gets is that "the Islamic religion accept what all the others have accepted in the past... that radicalism and provocation have no place here."

Once again, nobody -- polls included -- saw race car driving enthusiast Fillon coming from behind, like a political Lewis Hamilton, and reduce to dust his main competitors on the Right, former Prime Minister Alain Juppe and, most of all, former King Sarko The First, the Conqueror of Libya, a.k.a. Nicolas Sarkozy.

As it stands, roughly less than six months before the presidential elections, Fillon is now being lauded by the Right as the perfect vehicle to smash Marine Le Pen's burning ambition. A solid family values, provincial, Catholic straight from central casting is perfect to "steal" a large constituency -- the elderly -- away from the FN.

Photogenic Marion Marechal Le Pen, a FN member of Parliament and -- crucially - Marine Le Pen's niece, confirmed on the record that Fillon is "the most dangerous candidate to the FN." His centrist appeal is unmistakable. And he's definitely not a populist; more like a David Cameron with pommes frites than a gammon steak Nigel Farage.

It's the economy, stupid

Bill Clinton's mantra lives; once again, the battle will be in the economic front. Fillon's plan is a merciless neoliberal shock designed to "open up" the notoriously centralized French economy, centered on slashing at least 500,000 public sector jobs, cut off the dizzying maze of bureaucratic regulations, and drastically reduce public spending, to an astonishing 0 percent budget deficit by 2022.

This all relies on a single-minded concept: to free businesses from red tape ("I'll do everything for entrepreneurs!") so more jobs will be created (French unemployment rate remains stuck at around 10 percent). Expect major backlash; there will be if not blood, at least a lot of pubic sector anger exploding in the barricades if Fillon gets his way.

Paris of course is not France; it's the provinces that will decide the outcome next spring. But even in Paris there's a groundswell among urban progressives that to bar the highway for the FN may be OK, but Fillon's agenda may be too reactionary.

That's the feeling one gets among this very French constituency -- mixed "public-private" couples -- where one partner works in the public sector and the other in private initiative. In a nation still under Colbert's rules, it's absolute anathema to "attack" the public sector.

Marine Le Pen, for her part, is an extremely savvy player appealing to the vast, downtrodden urban/rural proletariat -- the provincial counterparts of Hillary's "deplorables" -- while appropriating herself from classic Left mantras; she is absolutely anti-globalization and thus protectionist. And she wants to protect the French public sector.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)

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