This has been quite a year politically, hasn’t it? Throughout the West the established political order has been challenged and undermined. In Germany the stale coalition system has effectively been turned on its head. Baden-Württemberg has a Greens-led coalition with the CDU as junior coalition partner. Rheinland-Pfalz has a “traffic light” coalition – Red/Yellow/Green. In the former DDR the AfD have been winning over 20pc in most states, even hard-left Berlin gave them over 14pc of its votes. In spring there will be another key state election in Nordrhein-Westfalen. It is the largest state in terms of population and it is the state with the largest population, the state with the most sink estates as well as the largest dumping-ground for “refugees”. Years of failed social experiments have left much of its urban Ruhrgebiet fractured and tense – more Luton or Tower Hamlets than fabled Alpine village.
France has, for its part, reminded us that it is more than capable of political surprises. That Hollande is doomed is obvious. He is at least as popular as a case of the clap, perhaps slightly less so… Marine Le Pen is vastly more astute than her father and is a far more serious challenge for established parties. Yet, even established parties are not quite as predictable as they once were. Les Républicains, barring a highly unlikely turn in fortunes, have rejected the media’s favoured candidate, Alain Juppé. Sarkozy was never a likely challenger. His great achievement was becoming the most reviled president in France’s history. Until Hollande bested him. He was so to speak, as popular as herpes. No, it seems as if La République will choose another François, this time of the Fillon variety.
I’m pleasantly surprised. No, really! His political hero is Thatcher, his wife is Welsh and by all accounts he is fonder of Britain than most in France’s political establishment. He’s also a staunch supporter of a “Europe of the Nations”, not a federalised system advocated by Juppé and Merkel. His political realism matches his firm grasp of economics. This is highly unusual in Europe, certainly France more than most. His social conservatism reflects a side of France – one that many in Paris/ Île-de-France and Western elite circles routinely fail to appreciate. France is largely a deeply conservative, even suspicious, country. Paris and Lyon embraced social democracy of a sort, and much of France went along with it but outside a few urban centres it never truly took hold. Well, at least it didn’t take hold in the cultural sense.
I wish Fillon well. If he lives up to his reputation Europe could well take a different path. Merkel is a spent political force. She’ll be returned only because of the quirks of Germany’s electoral system. She’ll have her worst result, but so will the SPD. Together they’ll be lucky to form another “grand coalition” with a working majority. This is a profound change in fortunes for political parties that have taken turns ruling post-war Germany. Germany’s economic and social troubles are bubbling to the surface so a fourth Merkel government won’t hold as much clout. Juncker is really the last of the federalist “big beasts” and his troubles are only growing. France could well be the country that undermined the centralising trend that its politicians started.