Ideas

French Elections, A Counterpunch For Liberal Democracy

Emmanuel Macron's victory halts the blind assault against globalization, at least in Europe, if not the rest of the world. But the battle is far from over.

French and European celebrations in Paris
Luis Carvajal Basto

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ — Emmanuel Macron's victory in the French presidential elections stands as a big red Stop sign to a populist trends around the world. More than that, it is a reaffirmation that the liberal democratic state remains pertinent and viable even in the face of the discrepancies that globalization has inevitably produced. After the victories of Brexit and Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen's victory would have sealed the fate of the European Union and meant a worldwide return to protectionism.

The 2008 economic crisis did not show up "alone." It was accompanied by a deterioration, practically the world over, of governments' ability to connect with citizens, as shown in the eruption of various anti-system populist movements and a spreading of mass dissatisfaction with the political order and democracy. Furthermore, the inability of the establishment to satisfy the demands of those hurt by globalization, and a string of corruption scandals revealed across many countries, were accelerated by the network effects of the Internet and mass media culture.

Macron managed in a stark debate last week to unmask his rival

But ideology has grown hard to analyze: the candidates of the new Right are as protectionist as those of the old Left. Amid Hillary Clinton's defeat in the United States, and spreading fiscal crises and the crumbling welfare state, no one until Macron had deemed it necessary to explain the contradictions between their promises to restore lost jobs in prosperous states and the realities of globalization. They were not saying how they would "order" changes within the global chains of production, to raise prices and lower wages and costs, or who would pay the price of abandoning the principles of specialization​ or comparative advantage.

The Macron phenomenon is, among other things, democracy's counterpunch to these new forms of doing politics based on winning voters' support by hook or by crook — using alternative truths and post-facts if need be — and failing that just lying, as I pointed out in a column in January. Macron managed in a stark debate last week to unmask his rival before millions of French viewers. Her project "thrives on fear and lies," he told her, highlighting the strategy that yielded results in the United Kingdom and the United States (Russian meddling, the FBI etc..) and to which Madame Le Pen resorted to the very end, hacking and all.

The Macron coalition, backed by both Right and Left, can also provide a very specific boost to the beleaguered European Union. It represents a proposal to govern away from the extremes, an inclusive model that promotes the private sector and economic freedom without discarding the state's role in limiting inequalities and promoting social progress. Macron's victory begins to move toward resolving some evident dysfunctionalities of the political order in light of globalization, though clearly further adjustment will also prove necessary.

Here in Colombia, Macron's victory will not have palpable effects in the short term, nor will it influence the presidential elections scheduled for 2018. For perhaps our most pressing electoral issue, the peace process with FARC rebels, one suspects that those who celebrated Trump's victory, will not be throwing a party for Macron.

So is this a return to democratic liberalism? Yes, at least in France, though on the global level we can expect the continuation of the tug-of-war between those trying to profit from the clash of democracy and globalization and those who insist on maintaining the established regime and playing by its rules.

The EU will, while it lasts, continue to be a weighty player in world affairs, assuring plurality and balancing the roles and political and economic decisions of the United States, Russia and China, in a context of drastic volatility in the world order.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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