Hand on heart – Has French politics become too Americanized?

The 2017 French presidential election was unlike any other that preceded it, but one aspect everyone noticed was the increased Americanization of the way the French do politics. And it wasn't just the way Emmanuel Macron put his hand on his heart during the Marseillaise.

Hand on heart - Has French politics become too Americanized?
Photo: AFP
French political analysts and sections of the media have long been concerned about the Americanization of their politics.
Some have lamented the rise in the cult of personality, the shift of the role of the president from symbolic head of state to head of the government and the growing importance of image over substance.
Nicolas Sarkozy was dubbed “Sarko l'Americain” for his “bling bling” style of presidency in which his relationship with actress and model Carla Bruni provided fodder for the glossy magazines.
But it feels in 2012 the French presidential campaign was even more “Yankee”, as the French say, than ever.
Although crucially somethings remain very different, not least the result, as many have pointed out.
1. The hand on heart during the anthem
Much of the French press picked up certain candidate's, particularly Emmanuel Macron and Socialist Benoit Hamon placing their hands over their hearts during the singing of the Marseillaise at the end of their public rallies.
The gesture appears to have been lifted from the way American politicians often adopt the posture when they are singing the “Stars and Stripes”.
But Edouard Lecerf a pollster from the agency Kantar Public and specialist on French politics told The Local the action should not be misinterpreted as a show of patriotism.
“To the French, this is more about showing that what you are saying comes from the heart,” Lecerf said.  

2. The primaries.
The French were already talking about the Americanisation of their politics back in 2012 when the Socialist party decided to hold an open primary, based on the system Americas two parties use for choosing their candidates.
But this time round it the Republicans and the Greens also joined in the fun, meaning the presidential campaign felt like it had been going on for months and months… and months.
3. The 'first lady' 
Will Brigitte Macron be the first spouse in French politics to hold an official position as 'first lady'?
It has been suggested she wants to model her role and that held by former US First Lady Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama.
Macron has been clear throughout his campaign that he intends to carve out an official role for his wife even though the position does not exist in the French Constitution and has no legal status.
That would suggest Brigitte Macron's function could become more like that of a First Lady in the United States, where Donald Trump's wife Melania has her own office, a budget and a team of 12 people, including a chief of staff.
This has led to suggestions Mrs Macron could model herself on a certain popular former American president's wife.
“Michelle Obama is a good reference for Brigitte Macron,” French author and journalist Alix Bouilhaguet, who wrote a book on the presidential candidates' partners, told The Local.
“She plays a full and meaningful role next to Emmanuel Macron and she wants to be a real Premier Dame,”  the author added.

3. Macron's 'helpers'
During the election campaign, most of the French public probably had at least one encounter with one of Macron's team of volunteers based around the country, known as his 'helpers'.
While campaigning on the ground is not new to French politics, at the launch of En Marche! in April 2016, the 'helpers' were sent out to regions all over France to conduct surveys on which issues most matter to them and remained an integral part of Macron's campaign. 
En Marche! built up an unprecedented support network including 3,900 local volunteer committees, that was compared to the organisational structure of Barack Obama's campaigns. 
“The idea is not new but the way it was done and presented is,” said pollster Edouard Lecerf from Kantar Public. “This was not just about campaigning but also about marketing, which was clearly influenced by other democracies.”
Macron's positive campaign that talked of hope an potential was also seen as being inspired by Obama's 'Yes We Can' message, not to mention Marine Le Pen stealing from Donald Trump with her campaign to “Make France Great Again”.
And his rallies in which he often appeared with just a shirt, sleeves rolled up also appear to have inspired by the ex-American president.

4. Introducing…the 'president-elect' 
Even the language has been influenced.
Ubiquitously referred to as the 'president-elu' or 'president-elect' by the French press, Macron seems to be the first to be awarded this title in France, which will obviously be dropped once he is inaugurated on Sunday.
Newly American president's are commonly referred to as a “president-elect” until they take office.
“It's striking that everyone is referring to him as the 'president-elect' but international image is important,” Lecerf told The Local.
5. The Debates 
This year there were an unprecedented number of debates between candidates and they nastier than ever before.
There were three before the Republicans primary, two before the Socialists primary and one involving the five main candidates.
Then there was the unprecedented debate between all 11 candidates, including five who had little hope of getting over five percent of the vote.
Then came the last debate – a two and a half hour mudslinging match between Marine Le Pen and Macron.
Deciphering the politics from the slew of name-calling, insults and invective was no small feat and while the French people were unhappy with the distinct lack of policy being discussed, it had a lot in common with the Clinton/Trump debates of the recent US election.  
6. Macron has money
Yet another aspect of the Macron presidency to cause controversy was his money.
Having worked for Rothschild as an investment banker, he does not match the profile of a typical French president.
While his predecessors have usually have long backgrounds in politics, perhaps even their whole lives, Macron was young and rich, had never been elected and more to the point he was unapologetic about it all.
While many on the left and the far right tried to use this against him and play into French people's suspicions of those with wealth, his supporters saw his background outside politics as a plus, which is generally the case in America, where former actors and businessmen have become presidents.


Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”