PARIS — We couldn't believe our eyes. We had to count again. Out of the 11 candidates running for the French presidency, 10 of them — from left to right on the political spectrum — voted against the Treaty on European Union in 1992 and/or against the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe in 2005. All of them except centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. Do these other candidates really embody France's future? Our diagnosis is quick: yes, skepticism towards the European Union was all the rage last year; now it's out of fashion.
Of course, the signs aren't promising. Half the voters intend to vote for anti-EU candidates. If the two candidates currently leading the polls — Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen — face off in the second round of voting, the presidential election would turn into a high-risk referendum on Europe itself. The danger in this confrontation is the possibility of a country-wide fracture along class lines: the privileged and globalized elites against the demoralized popular masses. Europe would be accused of being a Trojan horse for savage globalization, when, in reality, it's the only thing that can counter it.
When you choose the open sea, you may well end up going under.
We must first open our eyes to the very idea of nationhood. We are witnessing a "clash of civilizations" to use Samuel Huntington's prophetic phrase. The challenge posed by political Islam and anguish about identity put all European countries to the test, whether their model is communitarianism (Britain) or integration (France).
The second challenge is the victory of Donald Trump, the first staunchly anti-European U.S. president, combined with Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempts to destabilize the continent. France's nuclear deterrent, or its seat at the United Nations Security Council, certainly won't be enough for the country to answer those threats alone. The example provided by Britain, a devalued island adrift since it activated Article 50 to leave the EU, shows that when you choose the open sea, you may well end up going under.
The rise of Trump and Putin threatens Europe with a new "Yalta," the post-World War II pact that divided Europe in half for 40 years. The two leaders are also destroying the prevalent economic and social model established by Germany: Putin by destabilizing Eastern countries and by infiltrating the minds of French nationalists, Trump by trying to destroy free markets. Anti-EU candidates are falling into the trap: Trump supporters when it comes to the economy, Putin followers in culture and foreign policy.
We French people need to reinforce our ties to Germany, which geography and history keep placing at our side. Even if it means having a serious talk about their excessive trade surpluses. This is what the fathers of Europe did when they launched the European adventure in 1950. The French president at the time, Charles de Gaulle, reconciled France with the Germany of the first Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, to rebuild Europe. Former presidents Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Francois Mitterrand launched the single currency despite obstacles. In short, in France, we need to move past the irrelevant left-right divide.
The pro-Europe centrist coalition is the only choice possible. It defends fundamental values such as a respect for a right to asylum, to justice, to free speech, to an international order. The true patriot, the defender of the nation and its values, is the European. The only thing left to do is to convince a majority of voters.
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