A Hacked Campaign: A Perceived Fascist versus the Perceived Moderate

By Adithya Sivakumar

There’s no way a country would flip its entire trajectory, right?

Sounds like a certain election in 2016, doesn’t it? Call it surprising, but these thoughts not only echoed in the minds of the population of the United States, but also the population of France, as they both went to the polls to elect a new President. However, even with striking similarities, the two elections led to two drastically different outcomes. So the obvious question is, why?

Talk of the 2017 French election began gaining steam in late 2016, in part marked by incumbent President Francois Hollande’s decision to not seek reelection. Hollande was hobbled by a dismal four percent approval rating and numerous terrorist attacks that had marred his term, and many people in France itched for a change, one that would seemingly set the country on the right track.

Initially, there were four candidates who served a serious chance of becoming President. They included Francois Fillon, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Marine Le Pen, and Emmanuel Macron. Surprisingly, only Fillon, who beat out former President Nicolas Sarkozy for his candidacy on a socially conservative and economically liberal platform, was the only member of the political establishment out of this four. In a world steeped by anti-establishment sentiment, all the other three were steeped with solid bases of support, all with radically different ideas on how to lead France. Fillon did lead polls for a while, but this lead soon dropped after he and his wife were put under investigation for embezzling state funds by creating fake jobs, leaving the door open to the other upstart candidates to take control.

Melenchon served as the far-left candidate, promising renegotiation with the EU, an attack on bankers, and goals Socialist President Hollande could never accomplish. Similar to the United States’ Bernie Sanders, Melenchon did build up a bastion of support among the youth of France, but was widely feared by financial institutions, as they feared “economic disaster” if he was elected.

Le Pen, on other hand, represented the other side of French politics: the far right. Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, and leads the National Front. Under the elder Le Pen’s leadership, the party was widely known as the one that promoted xenophobia and Holocaust denial, largely due to the leader himself. Marine Le Pen eventually got her father kicked out of the party after repeated remarks about characterizing gas chambers as a “detail of history.” After taking over, the younger Le Pen has attempted to rehabilitate the party’s image, proving largely successful, although many core points of the party have remained the same. In response to various terrorist attacks that have hit the nation, Le Pen has proposed strict controls on immigration, including the expelling of all undocumented immigrants and the removal of free education for these immigrants’ children. Additionally, the politics of her party largely place the citizens of France first, largely above those of immigrants, including making jobs, housing, or areas of public provisions go to French individuals first, rather than immigrants, an idea seen as unconstitutional by many. Inspired by Brexit, the candidate also has promised a referendum for France to leave the European Union. Most in relevance to the United States, Le Pen believed she had a chance after the surprise election of Donald Trump, indicating a new shift in global politics. Polls gave her the lead after Fillon’s fallout, but this was soon taken over by independent candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Macron is unique in that he formed his own party after serving as an economic minister in Hollande’s government. Frustrated by the lack of progress in his time in government, Macron painted himself as the center-left candidate, promising deregulation and reform to the business industry. Although potentially perceived in countries like the United States as normal, Macron’s proposals to increase the working week beyond 35 hours for younger workers as well as the opportunity to open businesses on Sunday were widely ridiculed by the left and working-class individuals. However, these proposals also have made Macron more palatable for businesses, and his strong support of the EU has also proved successful in wooing individuals from the left and right. Additionally, he has supported working with an array of world leaders, including Donald Trump and the leaders of Russia and Syria to promote peace, and promoted law and order initiatives to fight the ISIS attacks that have plagued the nation.

The first round of the presidential primaries clearly demonstrated rejection of the status quo, as Macron took 23.7% and Le Pen took 21.7%, while Fillon and Melenchon each took 19.5% of the vote. Since no candidate received a majority, Macron and Le Pen fought each other in the runoff. At this point, the rest of the world cautiously placed its eyes on the French Republic, worried about another Trump-esque victory or a Brexit, results they had slowly become accustomed to in 2016. Many defeated candidates, such as Fillon and the Socialist Party’s Benoit Hamon, pledged support to Macron, wishing to stave off the possibility of Le Pen taking power. Oddly enough, Melenchon’s supporters largely rejected voting for Macron, as even though the candidate said he would not vote for Le Pen, he also did not profess support for Macron either, echoing a similar situation in the United States after Bernie Sanders did not initially support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for President.

In a further ode to the United States’ election, a massive email hack was conducted on Macron two days before elections, leading to the release of documents about the internal workings of his campaign, leading to speculation that Russian sources were yet again attempting to influence the democratic process of a country. However, since campaigning on the day before an election in France is illegal, talks about the hacks were largely kept silent, and the effect on the election was likely not large.

On May 7, the day of reckoning came. Was France to become another follower of populism, or an adherer to the status quo? Its people gave a resounding answer: 66% voted for Macron, and 34% voted for Le Pen. This outcome confused many, as France appeared to have the same markers for a populist victory as the United Kingdom and the United States: fear of outsiders, economic uncertainty. So what changed?

France’s history was largely seen as a catalyst for rejecting Le Pen. As much as Marine Le Pen attempted to detoxify her party’s image, the history of her father and his statements brought a lot of weight for the people of France, especially one that had suffered through the far-right regime of Vichy in World War II. Additionally, in relation to the United States, one factor that may have been different was that of voter turnout. In the primaries, a slight dip in turnout led to 77% eligible individuals voting, while 53.5% voted in the 2016 United States Presidential Elections. A higher participatory rate may have led to more individuals, those more in favor of a France that ran more center than left or right, to influence the decision.

Although France stuck to EU integration, it is important to acknowledge the gravity of Macron’s win. Traditional parties now have to acknowledge they have to change their message to not only play to the same bases they have for decades, but rather reach out to broader swathes of the populace. Macron may move on making big moves in the business sector, but 34% of the country feels ignored, necessitating action on his part to make them feel acknowledged, while also assuring them that business reforms and EU integration do not pose a threat, but may actually lead to an opportunity.

Lampedusa: Europe’s Border Isle

By Jackie Olson

An Italian island with a population just over 6,000, Lampedusa was once considered a secret vacation getaway for Europeans, receiving almost 50,000 tourists a year. Now, due to its proximity to the African continent, just 70 km from the Tunisian coast, it has become a border-state between the EU and the volatile African nations, primarily Libya and Tunisia for thousands of refugees.

In 1985, the first round of the Schengen Treaty was passed which eliminated border checks at most EU-member countries along with the harmonization of visa guidelines. In addition, the legislation ordered whichever Schengen-country first received a migrant would be forced to take responsibility for the individual. This clause within the treaty has proven most problematic to the European Union and for countries especially Greece and Italy with their natural closeness to the migrant countries. Questions concerning the relative fairness to their disproportionate influx of migrants in comparison to other mainland EU countries has been in contention in recent years, especially after the massive increase of migrants to Europe in 2015 running concurrently with the Syrian Civil War.

Lampedusa became a stopping point for refugees into mainland Europe after the passing of the Martelli Law in 1990 which prohibited the free travel of North Africans into Europe and sanctioned airlines and ferry companies from permitting undocumented North Africans to use their transportation services in Europe. The passing of this act, in essence, gave birth to illegal, often unsafe, ways into Europe for migrants and created an opportunity for a border economy: local border entrepreneurs currently charge 1,000 Euros for direct transfer from Tunisia to Lampedusa and North African port authorities have reaped massive profits from mass migration.

In 1998, Lampedusa opened the first detention center and overtime expanded the local services to include longer stays for migrants. The services also changed from non-profit workers to profit which has altered the nature of Lampedusa into an economy that is largely now police and military personnel.

In 2002, Italian naval patrols were forced to direct migrants’ boats to shore resulting in the disproportionate number of migrants to Lampedusa between 2003-2008, in 2008 alone over 30,000 migrants stopped in Lampedusa. Even though North African readmission policies were in place since 1998 with an agreement with Tunisian to send migrants back to North Africa, it took ten years before the policy drastically shaped migration patterns. In 2004, the EU lifted embargos on Libya, at the time the most popular embarking country and stressed for support with naval patrols and deportations. Yet only in 2008 after Italy paid reparations for its colonial history did Qadaffi actively help in the migration crisis, reducing overall migrant travel in 2009-2010.  

Although, after the Arab Spring in 2011, Italy was left to fight the influx of people alone and saw a drastic increase in migration due to the Tunisian Revolution and the Libyan Civil War. The Italian government declared the increase as a North African Emergency which lasted until 2013.  Within that period, 1.5 billion euros were allocated to reception asylum centers and most importantly in 2011, a German court overturned the Dublin Regulation of the Schengen Treaty and permitted migrants to not be deported back to Italy from other countries within the EU, the first country where they entered the European Union. This ruling has had wide repercussions in the crisis, especially after 2013 when Italy declared the Emergency status over and closed many centers leaving once Italian-settled refugees to flood northern European states such as Germany for support.

Yet in 2013, the Lampedusa crisis did not lessen in severity. 14,753 migrants passed through Lampedusa that year and the island was marked by two tragedies. First, on October 3, approximately 500 Eritreans, Somalis and Ghanaians died meters off the shores of Lampedusa, the worst disaster in the Mediterranean since the Second World War. The tragedy brought attention to the efforts on the island and some proclaimed the locals rescue efforts to be worth the recognition of a Nobel Peace Prize. A few weeks later, Italy passed the ‘Mare Nostrum’ act to increase military naval patrols to stop any future tragedies from occurring near Italian waters. Yet in December, Lampedusa’s efforts were thrown aside with the exposure of reports that the local centers sprayed refugees for scabies, sparking massive protests from EU legislators who threatened to block financial support to Italy for their inhumane migration policies.

In 2014, migrant crossings substantially increased to over 165,000 people and was the deadliest year with 3,500 dying in transit. This was primarily due to the defunding of the ‘Mare Nostrum’, a systematic program that was too expensive to fund: over 10 million dollars per month. Italy, instead, looked to the E.U. for a naval search program which instigated the foundation of Operation Triton. Triton was considered useless with its low-budget and short range of 30 miles off Italian coasts.

In the ongoing Syrian Civil War since 2015, Syrians have disproportionately made up the largest nationality of Mediterranean crossings, from January 2016 to April 2017, 83,000 have used the routes to escape the bloody conflict. While in 2015, Italy saw only roughly 150,000 migrants in comparison to the 800,000 Greece had, overtime Italy has increased migrant inflows to roughly its 2011-2013 numbers. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) predicts that Italy will receive 190,000 refugees in comparison to Greece’s 44,000 in 2017.

Yet with the ongoing Islamic State terrorist attacks on European cities, Italy has been less willing to take massive amounts of migrants with the fear that terrorists from Libya will use the Mediterranean routes and ultimately attack the Vatican. Although, Italy may have to actively devote more resources to asylum-seekers, especially after the numerous European elections in 2017 that may place many far-right agendas in power which have condemned open asylum policies. Therefore, while Italy has reached reception capacity, it is currently looking at plans on how to better structure services to refugees with the view that the situation will still be severe but will garner far less internationalist-European  and more nationalist-based sentiment against relief for the mass-migration tragedy. What support Italy will receive or if they will stand as the lone-wolf against the volatile crisis will certainly be seen but will only be another layer added to never-ending cycle of mixed support and anguish from Europeans and the rest of the indecisive world.