French Ambassador On What's At Stake In The French Election
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The future of France will be decided on May 7. Two very different candidates are in a runoff for the presidency. Marine Le Pen is the far right candidate who is promising to take France out of the European Union. Her rival is centrist Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker with little government experience. The stakes are high. Will France follow the U.S. and the U.K. riding the populist wave? To talk about this we have in the studio the French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud.
Thanks so much for being with us.
GERARD ARAUD: It's quite a pleasure.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So sir, many analysts in France contend that even if Marine Le Pen doesn't win this time, she may win the next time. You know, we've seen the traditional parties in France do very badly. If this election is any indicator, is it only a matter of time before the European Union is done?
ARAUD: Well, actually, usually, it's a bit difficult to explain the French political life to the Americans and vice versa. And I think this time, unfortunately, our political lives are pretty comparable. We are facing the same wave of populism, the same rebellion of some of our citizens saying that, in a sense, the elites, the traditional political parties are not really there for them, so they are ready to try something new.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you concerned though that the European Union, sir, eventually will be at risk because of these forces sweeping Europe at the moment?
ARAUD: Yes. I never thought that in my lifetime I could believe that the European Union will be threatened, but it is threatened. For my generation, the European Union was, in a sense, very easy to explain. It was the war - two world wars, a genocide on our continent, invaded three times by the Germans in 70 years - it was really a way of saying it's over. But for the youth, obviously, we don't have a way to explain what is the European Union.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: France's ambassador to Japan has said publicly that he would refuse to serve a Marine Le Pen government. You supported his position. I'd like to know why.
ARAUD: You know, I have been a diplomat for the last 35 years. And I really do know that, as a diplomat, we shouldn't take sides in a political debate. We have a duty to be neutral, and I know this duty. But above this duty, we have also a conscience. You know, my generation of diplomats - we have always wondered what we would have done under the German occupation. And we - of course, the circumstances are much less serious. But nevertheless, the question is there. It's a far-right government. The far-right is not a usual political party. It's something totally a question of society, a question of civilization.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But don't you think that causes what we are seeing now in the U.S., where the impartiality of career diplomats like yourself are being called into question? You know, some believe loyalists are the only ones who should be put into sensitive places in government if they take those kinds of positions.
ARAUD: When you are facing some circumstances, you have to put a sort of ranking among your concerns. The concern you express, which is a genuine concern, sounds less important than avoiding the victory of the far-right.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm just curious, have you asked the United States for help with Russian meddling in the French elections? We've seen similar reports to what happened here with Macron's campaign staff. They were the subject of cyberattacks.
ARAUD: After the American elections, there were contact between intelligence services to check the way the Russians had acted. And we have given advice to the French political parties, so they defend their digital system. Whether they did it or they didn't do it, I don't know - of course, I don't know. What we have seen for the moment - more than hacking or more than fake news - is the sort of - the Russian media because the Russian media have been really very active into supporting the far right and trying also to attack Emmanuel Macron.
You know, in the first time, they tried to - they implied that he was gay. After that, they were insisting that he was - he had worked for the bank Rothschild, which was of course a sort of veiled anti-Semitism. But again, we have not - it may change in the coming days - but so far, we have not felt it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it a concern that there might be some big dump of sensitive information like what happened to the Clinton campaign about Macron?
ARAUD: I don't know.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think it could sway...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But do you think that something like that could sway the election? I mean, how close do you see it?
ARAUD: For the moment, you know, more or less, it's 60-40 percent according to the polls. But I - our political life is so polarized that this result depends a lot on electors - voters from the left and voters from the right choosing Macron. And it's so polarized that I'm a bit worried that a lot of them should decide to abstain. She may win. You know, all the polls and all the calculations may show that she may win if there is a massive abstention.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: French ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud, thank you so much for being with us.
ARAUD: Thank you. It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.