France has only one realistic choice: to vote for Macron
With far-right candidate Marine Le Pen the only challenger left in presidential election, the fate of the EU and globalisation are at stake
France has been given the jolt that the United States got with Donald Trump’s election and Britain received when voters decided to leave the European Union. The political establishment was given the most bruising of black eyes in Sunday’s first phase of presidential elections, with outsiders, centrist conservative Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen, going through to the deciding round on May 7. Only a quarter of the 78 per cent turnout opted for the candidates from the Socialist and Republican parties, which have alternatively governed since the founding of the Fifth Republic six decades ago. It is evidence that the nation has been beset by deep troubles and Macron, an advocate of free trade and globalisation who wants to strengthen links with the EU, offers the best hope of putting them right.
Many European governments certainly think Macron is the best choice. It is natural that they should as Le Pen’s vision is for closed borders to migration, setting up barriers to trade, scrapping the euro and holding a referendum on France’s membership of the EU. If voters were to choose her and she has her way, the European project would be no more. The collapse of the EU would bring an end to the free flow of trade, goods and people to and from the world’s leading economic bloc, all but spelling an end to globalisation.
Still, it is not surprising that Le Pen went through to the second round, just as her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, did in 2002. France is beset by a host of challenges, among them terrorism, near double-digit unemployment, social divisions and inequality. Just as happened in the US and Britain, the electorate has turned against what is perceived to be a ruling elite with a strong sense of entitlement. As a result, the French have opted for change, in the process punishing the mainstream parties.
Most surprising is that Macron will be Le Pen’s challenger. Just 39, he would be France’s youngest president if elected. He has no electoral experience and eight months ago turned his back on President Francois Hollande, standing down as finance minister and establishing his own political movement, En Marche. Without the support of the establishment, he tapped into the disillusionment of the young, the jobless and those who believe France is not living up to its potential. As an outsider, his biggest challenge, if elected, will be building a parliamentary majority.
France has entered unchartered political waters. But Macron offers the best chance for the nation to move in a progressive, pro-European direction. Failed conservative candidates have rightly asked their supporters to back him and shun Le Pen. Voters need to show their trust in him when next they cast ballots.