The French elections in June from a European perspective

The responsibilities of Ukrainian war and its uncertain future.

The results of the French elections for the renewal of Parliament in June remain uncertain. Macron's party that won the presidential election could lose the votes of a part of the left who voted for  him to make away the possibility of a victory of the National rally( Rassemblement national) led by Marine Le Pen. 

For the legislative election of 12 and 19 Join,  Jean-Luc Mélenchon head of  the leftwing  France insoumise, having formed an alliance with the Verts (EELV) and the Communist Party to present a unitary left-wing and ecological list  called “Nouvelle Union populaire écologique et sociale”, appears to be the main opponent of the rightwing alliance. The leftwing common program aims at the conquest of a vast popular consent including in the program a minimum monthly wage of 1400 euros euro, retirement at 60  years, and a more social and ecological European Union.

However, since the opposition remains divided, the coalition inspired by Macron, even though below the absolute majority of the voters, can win  a majority of the parliamentary seats, being each of them attributed to the party that in the second round has acquired the relative majority of votes in each of the 577 circumscriptions.  Consequently, the two main opposition parties, along with their allied,  could get the majority of the votes but not of the elected parliamentarians.

According to current forecasts,  despite being a  minority among the voters,  France could be again governed by a center-right government. In any case at the center of the program will be the European policy, dominated by the conflict with Russia, its consequences and its difficult solutions.

Ukraine will continue to be the bone of contention. The Ukrainian problem has a long story. In 2014, the Maidan people's uprising saw the end of the previous government  and, the new presidency of   Petro Poroshenko, a non-party oligarch. At the Minsk 2 conference on 2015, France, Germany and Russia pledged to find a solution for Ukrainian conflict on its eastern borders. But Poroshenko dropped the possibility of a negotiation. The question of the Donbass region, where the clash was about to cause 15 thousand deaths, remained open. In the 2019 elections, Poroshenko was wiped out after being accused of private enrichment to the detriment of the public budget.

Zelensky, an actor with no political experience, triumphed. In December of 2019 Macron and Merkel meet Putin in Paris with the participation of Zelensky, and the new attempt to reach an agreement with Russia ended positively.

The agreement included the exchange of prisoners, a ceasefire and local elections in the Donbass. Putin said he was satisfied, reiterating the goal of bringing Ukraine back to the establishment of a federal order, as had been indicated before the outbreak of hostilities. The conference concluded with a commitment to a new meeting in 2020 to verify the implementation of the agreement.

As we know, there have been no other meetings. Ukraine has accelerated the rearmament process with American support. Angela Merkel, who in 2008 had declared herself opposed to Ukraine's request to join NATO and who had always maintained a dialogue with Putin (each of the two spoke perfectly both Russian and German), was moving towards the end of her fourth term, during which she had maintained constant relations with the head of the Kremlin.

Unfortunately, the European deal agreed in Paris never came to life. Ukraine  continued to arm itself with American support while relaunching its request of NATO membership. A dividing issue given that it was not the  case of minor countries, as it had been  the case of Estonia and Latvia, but of the bigger country in Europe. More or less like a military alliance that would include Russia at the head of the countries bordering the United States, as could have been the case with Cuba, or would be the case with Mexico, today. It is in this framework that Macron's attempts trough personal contacts and dozens  telephone conversations with Putin have been unsuccessful.

The Russian invasion of February 24 must be condemned for the material destruction and the human consequences that it irremediably entails. But the fact remains that war was avoidable.

Now, conditions have profoundly changed and worsened. The United States has the advantage of being in control of the conflict without having to commit a military deployment. A condition of privilege after having fought (and lost) in the last twenty years the war against Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention Vietnam, before). Now the United States can fight a war without directly participating in it.

To what extent will this line of growing problems for Europe create difficulties for Russia, which has an essential component of the trade balance in gas exports?

The first result is to push Russia into the arms of China. The agreement already concluded allows the export of Russian gas to China via the pipeline in operation since 2019. Furthermore, a new pipeline of 50 billion cubic meters per year with origin in Siberia and transit through Manchuria has been agreed between Moscow and Beijing.

Another agreement was concluded at the beginning of the year by Russia  with India for the supply of (liquefied) gas tending to quadrupling current supplies. Gazprom's advantage is to be able to define relatively advantageous prices compared to international standards, as Gazprom is a public body with the production and distribution of two thirds of the national gas. Russia is securing new outlets in an area that includes three billion people, such as China and India, both destined to take on a growing role in the world economy.

Returning to France, whatever the result of next June's elections - a parliamentary majority linked to a left-wing government led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon or, as seems likely, linked to Macron, the country will play an important role at European level. Any prediction on the fate of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is a gamble. However,  France under Macron's presidency, whatever the color of the new government after the June elections, can still take on an essential role at European level.

Conditions remain uncertain after the ruins of the war and its tragic human consequences. But it is not difficult to imagine that the issues that preceded the war will reappear: the obvious recognition of Crimea as belonging to Russia, a particular role to be attributed to the Donbass provinces, and the definitive renunciation of the membership to NATO of  Ukraine.  It would be a rational solution.

But the future remains uncertain. The war in Ukraine will define the role of the European Union at this stage of history. A solution has repeatedly appeared close. Germany and France have shown a clear interest in resuming collaborative relations with Russia, and vice versa. 

The repeated attempts by France and Germany to find a solution in the name of the European Union have failed due to the clear opposition of the United States, which meanwhile armed Ukraine and declared itself in favor of its entry into NATO.

In this framework a renewed active role of France appears Important.  It could offer the opportunity for a change of course for the European community. If it were to fail, if the confrontation with Russia were to remain in American hands, the role of the European Union would definitely  be on the fringes of global politics, dominated, on the one hand, by the United States, on the other, by China along with Russia.

Antonio Lettieri

Editor of Insight and President of CISS - Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body and Advisor for European policy of Labour Minister. (