It’s been a busy time lately in our neck of the woods – Easter, school holidays, a wedding and a wonderful trip across the ditch. But while I’ve been head down, bum up, corralling our kids and trying to steady our family ship called chaos – it’s been rather busy and somewhat nerve-racking in the outside world in the last week or so.
We now know that a far right, anti-immigration, anti-Europe, protectionist politician is running head to head in the French Presidential election against a banker-turned-politician who is pro-globalisation, pro-Europe and energised to rejuvenate France with fresh centrist policies. The choices are polar opposite – either France will close its doors to Europe and the rest of the world under a populist leader, or it will welcome internationalisation, tolerance and reform with open arms.
Paris. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko
Aside from the extreme choices on offer, the election so far represents a huge upset in French politics, revealing the true anti-establishment sentiment underpinning French society at the moment. It is the first time since 1958, the beginning of the 5th French Republic that the next President will come from neither of the two established political parties – the socialists and conservatives.
While there is cause for quiet optimism that newcomer Emmanuel Macron will beat Marine Le Pen (think Trumpism), given the recent failure by pollsters and ‘experts’ to accurately predict the US Presidential election and Brexit referendum, I am not holding my breath. Instead I am sitting back here crossing my fingers that democratic values and openness will prevail. But it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.
Meanwhile, across the English Channel, there has been another interesting week with Theresa May calling a snap election in the hope that any dissent among the troops in Westminster will be stomped out as the Government negotiates its Brexit, and to cement the Tory leadership. Is there any chance that this may undo the Brexit mandate? It is unlikely that Brexit itself will fall over because of the election, even if a new party comes into power. But it may influence the form of Brexit – a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ exit from the European Union.
Theresa May is a strong advocate of a ‘hard’ Brexit – which translates to the departure of the UK from Europe, the single market and customs union, and in doing so, giving up the four freedoms that underpin the single market. There is no cherry picking in terms of these freedoms – if a country operates in the single market, you commit to the free movement of goods, provision of services, people and capital. If you are out – you are all out. It is all or nothing. So you can’t have free trade without open immigration. Under May’s plan, the UK would sign up to its own free trade agreements with European countries, either individually or collectively, which may take a very long time and leave open a long period of uncertainty for business.
Conversely, a ‘soft’ Brexit could see the UK leaving the European Union but maintaining some access to the European Single Market – at the cost of accepting unfettered immigration, a key Brexit referendum issue. This is the sort of soft landing the Labour party advocates – although a Labour election victory is highly unlikely.
Photo - Wix
Yet while all of this politicking goes on in Europe, we have North Korea threatening to launch a nuclear strike on Australia, and indeed experts claim it could have capability to strike this continent of ours in 3 years. I’ve always felt rather insulated down under, and far enough away from the day-to-day effects of any real, or potential war, but this showdown between North Korea, Trump on Twitter and the Australian Foreign Minister, is unsettling and a tad worrying.
It seems to be growing into something more than a game of nuclear chicken. Amid these verbal threats and responses being flung about, there is concern that tomorrow, 25th April, both ANZAC Day and the 85th anniversary of the North Korean military, the country will carry out its sixth nuclear test. Flapping around in Florida, trying to cobble together some form of peaceful solution to this very real Korean problem, is our impulsive, arguably trigger-happy friend Donald Trump. We’ve already seen him get his mitts on the ‘mother of all bombs’ and launch it on ISIS in Afghanistan – what on earth might a nuclear situation provoke him to do?
All I can say is, let's get back to the school routine, focus on the here and now, and buckle up for a bit of a ride over the next few months – there is a bit on the horizon to keep a watch over.