John Oliver Explains Why the French Presidential Election Is More Important Than You Think

John Oliver
“You in France love nothing more than acting like you are better than Britain and America," says Oliver. "Now is your chance to prove that.” Last Week Tonight

The first round of France's presidential election is coming up on April 23, and John Oliver wants you to pay attention. “It’s way more important than you may realize," he said on Sunday night's episode of Last Week Tonight. That is because the leanings of France's next president will likely determine the future of Europe. If an anti-E.U. candidate like Marie Le Pen wins, the entire E.U. could dissolve.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that, post-Brexit and with a wave of far-right populism sweeping Europe, the fate of the E.U. may hang on this election," Oliver warned.

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France's election will likely take place in two stages. In the first, which will be held on April 23, the country will vote on all 11 candidates who have entered the race. Then, assuming no one candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote, the two leading vote-getters from the first round will go head-to-head in a run-off election on May 7.

As Oliver points out, there are four candidates who have anything close to a realistic chance of winning.

There's François Fillon, who served as the prime minister of France from 2007-2012. Unfortunately for Fillon, Googling his name mostly yields stories related to various scandals, like how he was accused of paying his wife and child public money for doing little to no work, or that he was bribed with an expensive suit.

There's Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a far-left candidate who has seen a recent bump in the polls. As Oliver points out, Mélenchon dazzled a crowd by appearing as a hologram at a campaign event.

There's Emmanuel Macron, a centrist former banker who is pro-Europe, pro-business and wants to build France's economy. He is also married to his former French teacher, who is 20 years his senior. Macron is considered the favorite, according to recent polls.

Macron's main challenger is Le Pen, or, essentially, the Donald Trump of France. Le Pen represents the National Front party, which her caustically racist father Jean-Marine Le Pen founded in 1972. Though Marine has toned down the party's image, there is still cause for concern. Like Trump, she has described undocumented immigrants as rapists, and has said burkas, head scarves and yarmulkes should be outlawed in public. She is also anti-E.U.

“One of the frustrating things about watching this unfold from America is that this feels a little like dejá vu," Oliver says, "a potentially destabilized populace, campaigning on anti-immigrant rhetoric, who rages against the elites, despite having a powerful father and inherited wealth.”

Also similar to what unfolded in the U.S. throughout 2016 is the media's cavalier dismissal of Le Pen as a serious candidate. Oliver played several clips of French television pundits discounting her chances in a way that was eerily reminiscent of what we saw with Trump.

Le Pen could win, though. France is fractured, and its current president, François Hollande, has an approval rating of four percent. The country has endured a number of terrorist attacks, and its unemployment rate is close to 10 percent. Voter turnout could also be an issue. Around 80 percent of French citizens typically vote in presidential elections, but some are forecasting that close to a third of the country could abstain from this particular election out of frustration over the unpopular roster of candidates. You can bet that those passionate about Le Pen's nationalist message will be at the polls, however, just as they were for Trump last November.

With just a few days left until the election, Oliver attempted to appeal to the French people's desire to be viewed as superior to the United Kingdom and the United States. “You in France love nothing more than acting like you are better than Britain and America," he says. "Now is your chance to prove that.”