Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP
Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP

The May 7 runoff vote for the French presidency will be a face-off between politicians with radically contrasting ideologies.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron, a former banker and political novice, favours cuts to government spending and deregulation that will be welcomed by Europe’s elite. Anti-EU and anti-immigrant National Front leader Marine Le Pen wants to ditch the euro and has plans to print money to finance tax cuts and larger welfare payments.

Either way, Sunday’s first round of voting for a new French president marked the failure of the two mainstream parties that have dominated French politics for decades. The defeat of the centre-Left Socialists and the centre-Right Republicans is a sign of deep unrest in French society.

It’s also another signal for the world that populist fever is here to stay. Farmers as well as blue-and white-collar workers are joining the revolt against globalisation, which has created huge wealth, but handed them tougher working conditions, lower real salaries and the threat to their jobs from automation.

The outlying areas are home to this disconnected working class, which put Donald Trump into the White House and voted in support of Brexit. These voters are increasingly divided from wealthier social classes — and minorities — in cities.

But the consequences are wider still. The Macron-Le Pen race will determine the future of France’s position in Europe and its influence in the world. For this founding member of the organisation that became the EU, the stakes are high.

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