France’s difficulty accepting the ever-growing phenomenon globalisation is hardly a hidden facet of France’s political outlook, yet it found itself well and truly brought to the fore during the 2017 Presidential election campaign. So what are the real reasons for this French resistance to globalisation?
In the run up to the second round of the French Presidential election, Marine le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, propelled the issue of globalisation into the limelight in creating a dichtomy between herself and her opponent Emmanuel Macron in the form of a battle between «les patriotes et les mondialistes» – in short between those who accept globalisation and those who believe France should defend itself from such international processes. Admittedly, Macron did comfortably prevail with around 66% of the vote, yet we must not neglect Le Pen’s record-breaking polling, as well as globalisation-skeptic Melenchon’s positive campaign. Clearly then, there still some reluctance to welcoming globalisation that is deeply engrained in French society and thought.
This may be surprising given that France has always placed great emphasis on it’s place and influence in the world in a branch of politics referred to ‘les politiques extérieures’. As a country France has played, and continues to play, an important part on the world stage: in 1860 Napolean III completed several bilateral trade deals with Prussia and England to reduce trade tarifs; at it’s peak the French Empire was the second largest in the world; and le République has a permanent seat and veto at the UN. The crux of the issue does not however stem from such interactions but rather from processes that are outside of France’s control and to which they are often passive.
One of the most significant cultural specificities preventing the total acceptance of globalisation is that of exceptionalism. This is their perception of French culture being unique and superior. In this way it is easy to note why there is some resistance to globalisation as an increase of products from abroad can lead to a decrease in quality for the consumer. Also, concerning ‘luxury’ products, a particularly important market in France, the counterfeiting of luxury labels such Louis Vuitton can lead to economic losses. Again, globalisation has led to an ‘Americanisation’ of the entertainment industry. This attacks the French pride in their cultural productions, as seen in the film industry which in 2007, saw around half of its box office entries coming from the States. Similarly, cultural industry of la haute cuisine in France has been damaged thanks to globalisation, not only with ‘la malbouffe’ entering the country in establishments such as McDonald’s (with profits in France rising by 11% in 2008), but also the rise of restaurants in other countries that have Michelin stars (previously an honour found only in some Parisian restaurants). Thus, the French struggle to feel comfortable with globalisation because it threatens their cultural vision of ‘the French exception’.
Linked to this concept is the idea of protectionism (on an economic level) which prevents the French feeling comfortable with globalisation as they seek to guard the French economy from this process. For instance, the opening of international markets means there has been an increase in cheap mass imports from abroad, meaning French producers cannot compete with the foreign production which isn’t restricted by workers-rights or environmental legislation. This results in the closure of factories, decline in industry, and rise in unemployment (especially in the manufacturing sector). Moreover, a total acceptance is prevented by the highly mediatised issue of immigration, a factor shown to concern more and more French people evident in the rise of the FN. The ‘fear’ of this aspect of globalisation stems from the idea of an undercutting of wages by the migrants, leading again to unemployment and a lower standard of living for French families. This impact of globalisation is arguably exaggerated by politicians who use it as a scape-goat for a very high unemployment figure of 3.61 million and growth of just 1.5%, when of course much of the economic struggle can be attributed to a wider economic crisis. As in much of the Western world, far-right politicans have misappropriated the term ‘globalisation’ as a synonym for ‘a loss of control’. Immigration is used as a political pawn not only on an economic level but also crudely in an explanation for recent terrorist activity. This stigmatisation serves to promote the nationalist narrative of globalisation as a threat to the security of the so-called ‘native’ population. Ultimately, the French often have difficulty accepting globalisation given that it is presented as a process that leads to the deterioration of France’s stature and grandeur.
Socially, the ethical issues of globalisation do not help French perception and opinion on the subject. It can be seen as going against French values of equality and fairness as there is a threat of neo-colonialism, as observed by post-colonialist thinker Césaire and author Franz Fanon, which has been criticsed for eroding indiginous cultures. The French are also an environmentally conscious society, and globalisation is seen by many as having detrimental effects through an increase in CO2 emissions due to increased production in countries which lack environmental restrictions, and also an increase in air miles as products are produced further away from the consumer. This concern is widely shared across France and is captured in Hollande’s sombre message that globalised has ‘abîmé la planète’. Clearly much of the French population therefore sees the values and aims of globalisation as diametrically opposed to their own world view.
So in short there are several cultural specificities that prevent an acceptance of globalisation, many of which revolve around a certain national pride, naturally leading to the French feeling uncomfortable when they sense that their country is losing its culture, and its status in the world.The question that now comes to mind is whether a new, progressive President in the form of Macron (spending much of his Presidential honeymoon period visiting and accepting foreign leaders to strengthen ties) will help shift deeply rooted reservations about globalisation towards a more positive outlook.
Only time will tell. This is a major opportunity for Macron, which if squandered or poorly executed will surely result in great nationalist sentiment in France – and with it the possibility of a Présidente Le Pen.