The Corner

National Security & Defense

Fillon, France and Putin

When it comes to political predictions, I’m not exactly on a roll at the moment. Nevertheless, after last weekend’s primary of the right, I’ll risk another. The next French president will be François Fillon of the center-right Republicans. Yes, the left will benefit from the fact that the current (Socialist) incumbent has now announced that he will not seek reelection, but not, in all probability, by enough.

Fillon? To over-simplify, he is socially conservative, economically liberal and promising to take a tough line both on immigration and militant Islam. To understand him in rather more depth, an intriguing article by Fred Siegel in City Journal is an excellent, sometimes contrarian, place to start. Check it out here.

Meanwhile, when it comes to foreign policy, Fillon has had some interesting things to say, not least, about his opposition to “American imperialism” and France’s relationship with Russia.

The New York Times sets out some details:

Mr. Fillon has called for lifting sanctions on Russia and for partnering with Moscow in an effort to curtail immigration and terrorism. He is friendly with Mr. Putin. If pollsters are right and Mr. Fillon wins the French presidency in the spring, he could join several rising European politicians and newly elected leaders who are like-minded.

So what’s going on?

To its credit, the Times (more or less) avoids the trap of lumping Fillon in with some of the dodgier folk who have been sliding in Putin’s direction in recent years:

Though Mr. Fillon would reverse his country’s hard line on Russia, he would not be the first French leader to reach out to Moscow — Charles de Gaulle, the president from 1959 to 1969, also did this…

That did not (of course!) represent any sort of sympathy for communism on De Gaulle’s part, but rather was an attempt by the general to establish an independent role for the France he still saw as a  great power, a great power wary of falling under American political and economic hegemony. Like many continental politicians before and since, De Gaulle was suspicious of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ capitalism in a way, interestingly, that Fillon may not be.

But Fillon is pushing back against something, partly, no doubt, because he sees that it plays well at the polls.

The New York Times quotes Benjamin Haddad, a French analyst at the Hudson Institute:

“All over Europe, Putinism has emerged as an ideological alternative to globalism, the E.U., etc.,” Mr. Haddad said, with Mr. Putin seen as “a bulwark for conservative values — a strongman against gay marriage, immigration, Islam.”

Mr. Haddad added, “It’s largely a domestic phenomenon, rather than the reflection of a strategic debate over the relationship with Moscow.”

That’s true, but it’s a domestic phenomenon that Putin may be able to play to his strategic advantage, an advantage that he has been handed by the overreach of those steering the ‘European project’, a project that has long since become disconnected from popular consent, commonsense, or even basic competence (the euro has not been the only disaster that ‘ever closer union’ has left in its wake).

But ever closer union means what it says. There is no sign that Brussels or its cheerleaders have any intention of changing course.   Accidentally, perhaps, but they have become among the most effective ‘allies’ that the Kremlin has.

That’s something to remember the next time you read that euroskeptics are playing Mr. Putin’s game. 

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