The last, best hope for global economic liberalism? Look to France.

Alain Juppé could be the last man (or woman) standing on the UN Security Council in defense of liberalism. (Facebook)
Alain Juppé could be the last man (or woman) standing on the UN Security Council in defense of liberalism. (Facebook)

Imagine the following lineup of the leaders of the UN Security Council: France Flag Icon

Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Chinese president Xi Jinping.
American president Donald Trump.
British prime minister Theresa May.
French president Marine Le Pen.

In a matter of months, we may wind up in a world where every leader of the Security Council is illiberal and nationalist.

That was unthinkable four months ago — and it should shock all of us who believe in free markets, mutually beneficial trade and sensible reforms to safeguard those displaced by trade.

But Trump’s astounding shock victory in last week’s US presidential election now gives Le Pen a major boost in her campaign to lead France. (May, who is not herself especially illiberal, leads a government whose top priority is the deeply illiberal Brexit, a separation from the European Union).

France’s presidential election is already in full swing, and the primaries for Les Républicains (The Republicans), France’s newly rechristened center-right party, are taking place this month — on November 20 and 27.

The center-right standard-bearer will then likely face Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National, in April 2017.

Though François Hollande, the incumbent president and, in theory, the leader of France’s center left Parti socialiste (Socialist Party), hasn’t indicated he will run for reelection, his 4% approval rating suggests otherwise. Hollande’s (former) fiery economics minister, Emmanuel Macron is already moving forward with an independent presidential campaign. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a committed leftist, will also run. They will compete against either Hollande or whichever sacrificial lamb the Socialists decide to nominate in January.

Both the center-right (under former president Nicolas Sarkozy) and the center-left have utterly failed to reform France and provide real prosperity for its justifiably angry electorate.

Enter Alain Juppé.

A 71-year-old former prime minister who tried to implement reforms in the mid-1990s under the (corrupt and feckless) Jacques Chirac before his 2004 conviction for abuse of public funds dating back to the Chirac era, Juppé should be poster boy for the discredited French elite.

Nevertheless, the longtime Bordeaux mayor (it’s weird to Americans but not uncommon for French politicians to hold local mayoral positions) is now the face of change in France’s election.

Though his lead has narrowed in recent months, there’s still a very good chance he’ll win the center-right’s nomination for president. Polls show that Juppé leads Sarkozy for the  nomination (with former Sarkozy prime minister François Fillon in third place and climbing). But they also show that Juppé has by far the best shot of stopping Le Pen in next spring’s presidential election. The top two candidates will face off in a runoff for the Républicain nomination on November 27.

First, however, Juppé has to defeat Sarkozy, who is running hard to his right (nearly co-opting the Le Pen position) on immigration, terrorism and law-and-order issues in a year when French voters have been traumatized by high-profile Islamic terror attacks, first on Charlie Hebdo and then at the Bataclan. Le Pen will campaign vigorously on a Trump-style agenda of protectionism, anti-EU and anti-immigration sentiment.

France’s presidential election takes place in two stages. The top two winners of the April vote will advance to a May runoff. It’s a long ways off, but polls today suggest that Macron, Mélenchon and the ultimate Socialist candidate (does it really matter who?) will all cancel each other out, leading to a runoff between Le Pen and the Républicain candidate.

Oddly enough, Sarkozy represents to many voters the failed policies of France’s recent governments, while Juppé (who served at the end of Sarkozy’s administration as foreign minister) represents the face of change and reform, in part because he’s survived for so long and is a grizzled veteran of French politics.

You can bet that the Trump administration will be rooting for Le Pen over Juppé and (quite possibly) Sarkozy.

If Juppé wins, however, both in next weekend’s primary and in next spring’s election, he’ll have one chance — alongside Germany’s Angela Merkel — to make France a showcase for reforms that (hopefully) demonstrate how international trade and free markets can provide broad-based economic growth for everyone.

It’s true that Juppé wants to introduce reforms that most leftists would find horrific — corporate tax cuts, spending cuts (including to pensions), an end to the 35-hour workweek. But with France reeling after nearly a decade of low growth and low employment gains, voters may be willing to attempt a package of reforms that could, at long last, unlock a spirit of entrepreneurial growth. France, of all places, might become the laboratory for economic liberalism at a time when illiberalism now threatens to engulf the entire developed world.

If Juppé wins and if he succeeds, France will be the one world power to evade nationalist illiberalism, and it can light the path forward for the rest of the world.

That, in a nutshell, is why world politics matters. Now more than ever. (And it’s why Suffragio is back.)

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