Monday, May 8, 2017

Vive la EU!

At his victory speech before the glass pyramid of the Louvre there were as many EU flags as French flags among his assembled supporters.  He came to the podium with Beethoven's 9th symphony playing, which has been redubbed "Ode to Europe."

It remains to be seen what Macron will do in France but for the moment Europe is breathing a huge sigh of relief.  Few doubted he would win the election, but Macron needed a resounding victory to push this ugly strain of nationalism creeping into Europe back into its dark corner.  He got it, scoring a whopping 66% of the vote, ending all talk of "Frexit."

He took virtually every French voting district in the process.  Le Pen managed to win only two northern districts.  Still one can argue that 34% is a lot of dissatisfied French, but Macron has five years to make his case and restore confidence in the country after what had been a disappointing decade of French politics.

Macron not only stood behind the EU, he championed it! The Far Left as well as the Far Right were calling for Frexit.  Those in the middle were of two minds, much like our lovely Theresa May in Britain, willing to go whichever way the electoral wind blew.  Macron refused to give up on the EU, representing a much wider favorable sentiment that most pundits are willing to recognize.

The reason is simple.  Most Europeans benefit from the EU, especially younger Europeans who very much enjoy the freedom of travel and work opportunities available.  There are drawbacks.  The large open market of goods and trades makes it much more competitive.  Countries are prohibited from adopting protectionist measures to safeguard what they see as their national products from outside competition.  The regulations and guidelines for business and agriculture are overwhelming, requiring an army of lawyers to sort it all out.  Macron represents the new wave of European leaders who want to cut through these regulations and streamline the process to allow greater access to the common market.

For others this is just globalization made easy, speeding up the declince of national identity.  Persons like Le Pen and Farage (UK) and Wilders (Netherlands) play on these anxieties, making it sound like soon we will have a United States of Europe and there will be no national identity left whatsoever.  Farage and his UKIP party were lucky enough to catch the front of this wave and ride it to victory last summer in the Brexit vote.  Wilders and La Pen were unfortunate to be left on the backside of the wave, and see their political hopes washed away.  Farage wasn't so lucky in this latest round of UK elections, although Theresa May continues the road toward Brexit.

The biggest loser is Russia, and to a lesser degree the United States.  Putin is still smarting from the sanctions imposed by the US and EU following his annexation of Crimea.  Ever since 2014, Russia has been working hard to create the same economic turmoil in these countries that it is going through itself.  Putin tried to take the methods his media teams had effectively used to stir up anxiety in Eastern Europe and project them on Western Europe, using RT or Russia Today, as a channel for these fringe figures to have a larger audience.  Nigel Farage, the campaign leader of Brexit, is a frequent contributor to RT, as are numerous other right-wing European leaders.

Putin took the very bold step in endorsing Marine Le Pen by inviting her to Moscow.   He had previously been content to use guerrilla media tactics to undermine elections.  I'm not sure what gave him this false sense of confidence.  He never offered such a bold endorsement of Trump.

He had to know Marine was never going to win.  She was lucky to even get into the second round, narrowly edging out Fillon for second place.  The best she could hope for was to not make a complete embarrassment of herself as her father did in 2002, when he was wiped out by Chirac, 82-18 in the second round.

Of course, we can't tie the massive e-mail dump at the eleventh hour of the campaign on the Kremlin, but all the signs point to Russia.  It was a very similar hacking to that of the Democratic National Committee last summer, which is still under investigation. This final gesture seemed to work against Marine, as Macron saw a 5-point gain in his poll numbers on election day.

One assumes that Putin was not so much trying to boost Le Pen over the top as he was trying to cast doubt on Macron.  A strategy many suggest Putin was hoping to accomplish with Hillary Clinton, as he didn't think Trump would actually win.  The Kremlin hopes the e-mail dump will tarnish Macron and make it difficult for him to build the coalition he needs in parliament to govern effectively.  In other words, Putin is thinking long term, hoping that the EU slowly unravels as a result of ineffectual leadership, as he does the US.

This is the cyber era of the Cold War, where both sides use hackers to try to undermine the legitimacy of the other.  Some of this is conventional in the use of mainstream media outlets to sow seeds of dissension.  Other methods will be far more pernicious, as hackers try to cut into electric grids, banks and other electronic infrastructure to create panics.  You might call this the "Mother of All Hackers."  As such, countries are beefing up their on-line security.

Russia has a particular advantage in on-line hacking, as it has a dark space in an old Soviet Union domain, which is a favorite hang out for cyber-criminals.  To be fair, you don't have to be Russian to get into this domain.  It is very hard to track hackers once inside.   I'm sure there are other more complex means of hiding these illicit activities, but Russia hasn't done anything to close down this very effective hide out.

All could be that this .su portal has a life of its own, much like on-line pirate video, music and software sites, allowing virtually anyone anywhere to keep their activities in the dark.  Just that much the better for Putin, who can keep himself safely removed from such cyber-attacks.

Macron steps into a brave new world of international politics.  We will see if this young banker is up to the task.  He certainly appears to have no time for Putin and the nationalist front movements he supports in Europe.  It will be an enormous challenge to not only lead France but help lead the EU into a brighter future, which will see itself battling against the national interests of Russia and the United States, as it has throughout this post-war era.  Maybe we will finally see the EU come to the fore?

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