Despite landslide victory, Macron has his work cut out for him
France’s new president has little experience and no political machinery to back him up, yet his country, Europe and the world need him to succeed
Rarely has a single election meant so much to so many. Centrist Emmanuel Macron’s decisive victory over the far-right Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election has calmed fears of a euro-zone crisis and the rise of populist politics. The European Union is, for now, safe and globalisation and free trade remain strong; governments, stock and currency markets and businesspeople have breathed a sigh of relief. Any other outcome would have spelled disaster.
A liberal, Macron is pro-business and a strong supporter of the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces voters in September and whose party unexpectedly won a state election at the weekend, was quick to congratulate him, as was European Council President Donald Tusk. Britain’s vote last year to leave the EU and the election of protectionist US leader Donald Trump have given cause for concern that voters have had enough of open borders and trade and are inclined to dismantle treaties. But being supportive of a united Europe does not mean it will be business as usual should the new leader gain sway in the French National Assembly; he is pro-reform and wants tighter fiscal cooperation, a euro-zone budget and improved cross-border business opportunities.
Macron has made history on numerous levels. At 39, he will be France’s youngest president since the founding of the modern republic 59 years ago. He is an outsider to the traditional political system, not being from either the two mainstream right or left parties, which have alternatively governed during that time. His winning margin of 32 percentage points over Le Pen was the second-highest on record, bettered only when Jacques Chirac defeated the losing candidate’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2002.
The new leader understandably said in his victory speech that a new page was being turned in French history. It has come about because of anger with the political elite, high unemployment, weak growth, fear of terrorism and social and racial friction. Le Pen’s loss does not negate her political clout; she seems likely to be the main opposition and the 11 million people who supported her racist and anti-EU policies remain a force to be reckoned with. Nor, given that 25 per cent of the electorate abstained from voting and a record 11.5 per cent spoiled their ballots, can Macron’s victory be called sweet.
He has repeatedly acknowledged an enormous challenge lies ahead. Most immediate is gaining seats in parliamentary elections next month; his fledgling party has no legislators or political machinery to drive campaigning. With the first round of voting five weeks away, he needs support, know-how and good luck. But given what is at stake, France, Europe and the world need him to succeed.