Macron’s Victory a Win for Europe, but Challenges Remain
PARIS - The large victory of Emmanuel Macron puts an end to an extraordinary presidential campaign, marked by judicial scandals, terrorism, hacking, and a tensed ideological opposition during the final contest. The election of the new French president was considered not only as the beginning of a new era of French politics, but also as a crucial test for the European project and liberal values.
Macron will have to quickly address great challenges at the domestic level, as the country is politically divided and the economic situation remains lackluster, and to meet the high expectations of France’s partners at the European and international level.
GMF experts from Paris and three other European capitals offer their assessments on Emmanuel Macron’s presidential victory in France.
France Chooses it New Leader
With more than 66 percent of the votes in the second round, Macron’s legitimacy has been strengthened. The 39-year old president, who created his political movement just a year ago, will try to use this formidable personal success to unite the nation around his project. The Parliamentary elections however, which will take place on June 11 and 18, will actually determine whether he will have the majority to implement his program or if his mandate will be weakened from the very beginning. Macron’s goal was to redefine the French political landscape from the Right versus Left divide, embodied by the traditional mainstream parties, to a new opposition between the “progressive patriots” of his movement versus “the illiberal nationalists” of the National Front (FN). The presidential election was a necessary step, but certainly not sufficient to confirm this new mapping of French politics.
If many were relieved that Marine Le Pen did not reach 40 percent in the second round — and a clear sense of disappointment could be felt in her concession speech — the results also leave the country with more questions than answers. 10.6 million French voters supported the National Front’s candidate, which is three million more than for the first round. They will constitute a key force of opposition to the president in the coming years. The “normalization” of the far-right is more broadly accepted by the French people. More than 40 percent of the Macron voters declared voting against Le Pen rather than for the ideas of the centrist candidate, and both the abstention and blank votes reached an historical high during the second round (one-third of the French). The number one challenge for Macron will be to address the preoccupations of those who voted FN, abstained, or voted for him reluctantly. Macron’s victory is also the result of a highly polarized political situation which will frame his presidential mandate, and France’s allies will still have to wait to know how this victory will be translated into policy.
The risk for European and transatlantic partners is indeed to expect too much too quickly from the new French president. The election of Emmanuel Macron is now perceived as a major success against anti-European and populist movements, but the French elections only add up to the recent Austrian and Dutch elections sequence, which cannot be proclaimed as clear victories against nationalism considering their political gains. Although Macron’s election does dissipate fears about the eurozone’s future in the short term, the structural causes of the rise of the National Front in France — fears of the identity and security impacts of immigration, demographic change, and general concerns over an “uncontrolled” globalization — will have to be addressed in the early stages of Macron’s presidency in order to confirm this positive dynamic for the European Union. “The EU must reform or face Frexit,” as Macron put it, and the French presidential contest followed by the German parliamentary elections may offer one of the last chances for the European project.
Germany Feels Relief
In Germany, Emmanuel Macron’s victory was greeted with overwhelming relief. Both the political class and the public at large had anxiously awaited this result. They were acutely aware that what was at stake was the Franco–German alliance as they had known it, and with it nothing less than the European project as such. Consequently, Chancellor Angela Merkel called the French president-elect instantly to congratulate him and to agree a soonest-possible meeting. There, a formidable agenda will range from post-Brexit Europe, the strained transatlantic relationship, the Russian threat, and the continent’s security.
Merkel and Macron are in broad agreement on these major challenges, which may well mold both leaders into a similarly powerful couple as some of their predecessors. In the near term, this will depend on whether or not both leaders succeed in upcoming parliamentary elections in respective their countries. In the long term, much will depend on Macron’s ability to conduct domestic reforms and to inject into France an economic dynamism similar to that of Germany. On this, however, some in Germany remain sceptical and draw with former U.S. President Barack Obama, skyrocketing expectations, and inevitable disappointments.
-Joerg Forbrig, Senior Transatlantic Fellow and Director of the Fund for Belarus Democracy
A New Role for Brussels
At a time when few politicians have the courage to defend and promote Europe, Brussels is rejoicing that a pro-European platform has proven successful again — the Austrian president having set the tone last December. This victory alone will not be the key to unlocking the ongoing European crises. The next legislative elections are likely to give France a fractured parliament, Macron a difficult government, and to Europe a weak partner.
The election saw many novelties. One was the entry of the European Union into politics — symbolic and unprecedented playing the “Ode to Joy” on victory night. Macron's path ahead will be a tough call with a divided country, a National Front that remains strong and dangerous, and a state in need of reform. He gave Brussels a new role — and a new responsibility.
Macron's winning strategy could herald a new period of politicization of the EU, which could have a far-reaching impact on how business in carried out in Brussels. Europe will have to change, too, if it wants to live up to Macron’s pitch.
-Rosa Balfour, Senior Fellow
Warsaw Seeks a Common Vision
The victory of Emmanuel Macron in French presidential elections will not be necessarily uniformly welcomed in Warsaw, though the alternative of Marie Le Pen’s win would have been clearly seen by most as a disaster. In the last weeks of the campaign, Macron called for EU sanctions against Poland related to the rule of law procedure brought forward by the European Commission. He also grouped together Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of the Law and Justice (PiS) ruling party, and Vladimir Putin, drawing deep criticism from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In response to these statements, Polish President Andrzej Duda said that it is up to Mr. Macron to rebuild the trust between France and Poland.
Polish–French relations are in fact in a difficult place. The trust is low also in the area of security and defense cooperation — especially after the cancelation of a lucrative helicopter bid almost secured by Airbus. But the biggest tension might come over the future vision of the European Union. President Macron would like to see tighter cooperation of the eurozone countries, including debt mutualization and a common eurozone budget. This would be unacceptable for the Polish government as it would mean a harsh reality of multi-speed Europe, with Poland being left increasingly behind. The coming weeks will show how much from the campaign’s rhetoric will survive the test of governing, and how the Polish government will relate to the victorious president-elect Macron. The two countries have a tough path ahead of rebuilding mutual trust and developing a common vision of the future of Europe.
-Michal Baranowski, Director of GMF's Warsaw office
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.