Macron Wins the French Presidency: What Now?
The final results of the second round of the French presidential elections are: Macron: 66.1 percent; Le Pen: 33.9 percent; absention: 25.4 percent and blank ballots 11.5 percent. Although the victory of Le Pen seemed very unlikely, she could hope to get at least 40 percent of the votes. This would have confirmed the complete normalization of the National Front at the national level. The final results prove that Le Pen and her party are still perceived as dangerous and non-republican by a significant portion of the French electorate.
This being said, 10.6 million people (1/3 of the votes) wanted Marine Le Pen to become president. This is an extraordinary result for the far right from an historical perspective. She got 4 million more votes than in 2012, and she can pretend to be the first force of opposition to Emmanuel Macron in the coming 5 years. According to a post-election poll, more than 40 percent of the Macron voters declared that they voted against Le Pen and not in favor of Macron. Macron is well aware that his large victory does not mean that 66 percent of the voters support the implementation of his project. The real challenges to unite the nation start now.
- Macron will officially become president on May 14th. He will then nominate a Prime Minister and a government for 1 month, before the Parliamentary elections. More information will be provided very soon this week.
- Before June, he will probably issue a series of presidential orders to launch some key reforms, notably for the "moralization of French politics", and perhaps labor laws.
- The Parliamentary elections, on June 11 and 18, will be fascinating and very uncertain. The result of the Parliamentary will actually determine the extent to which Macron will able to implement his program in the next five years.
- While France's political landscape has been divided into two big political groups in recent decades (mainstream right vs. mainstream left), there are now five parties that will take part in the redefinition of French politics: the Front National (far-right), Les Républicains (conservative), En Marche! (center), the Socialists (left) and France Insoumise (far-left).
- The mainstream right and mainstream left are in crisis after the defeat at the presidential elections, but the far-right and far-left also experience internal tensions which could lead to new divisions. There is no political force which can feel relatively stable and certain of its electorate strength. Macron's movement - En Marche! - is not sure to win, given the polarization of French politics and the inexperience of many of its members and candidates.
- In the middle term, the National Front will probably disappear so that Marine Le Pen can create a brand new party in order to get rid of the burden of past controversies. The people's principled rejection of the National Front constitutes a glass ceiling for her.
- Macron's spokesperson declared that his first international official meeting would be with Angela Merkel. This should happen before the NATO summit and G7 at the end of the month.
What it means for Europe and the transatlantic relations:
Under Macron, France could potentially become both a selective partner and a challenger for the United States, the United Kingdom, or even Germany if he succeeds in reaffirming France’s diplomatic and economic profile in Europe and internationally.
The EU’s expectations:
- EU institutions expect Macron to show resolve and implement the necessary economic reforms in France. Just a few hours after Macron’s election, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker criticized France being fiscally irresponsible and spending “too much money on the wrong things.”
- France is expected to have a budget deficit that surpasses the 3 percent of GDP limit that the EU sets for eurozone countries, a rule that was in fact a French invention.
- In his campaign platform, Macron promised to stick to the 3 percent target by cutting up to 120,000 public sector jobs worth €60 billion over the next five years.
- He acknowledges that Berlin will listen to Paris only if France first regains its credibility through economic reforms. The French presidential contest and the German parliamentary election in September 2017 offer the last chance for the liberal center to reform Europe. “The EU must reform or face Frexit,” as Macron put it.
- On the economy, trade, and the Greek debt, Macron’s positions are already being criticized by EU and German leaders. To read a thorough analysis on how "Macron won’t mean business as usual in Brussels," read POLITICO’s latest excellent piece here.
A tougher line on Brexit
The UK might be the big loser of the French elections, as Macron will take a tougher line on Brexit than his predecessor Hollande. British Prime Minister Theresa May discussed Brexit with Macron following his election victory Sunday night. Jean Pisani-Ferry, economic adviser to Macron, says the newly elected president will be “tough” on Brexit negotiations, but he will not seek to punish Britain. Pisani-Ferry said no-one had an interest in a hard Brexit, and added that there was a mutual interest in maintaining economic and security ties once Britain leaves the Union.
Macron also views Brexit as an opportunity to attract business and talents in France.
Then there’s the question of who Macron brings into his government and to key posts in Brussels. With advisers like Jean Pisani-Ferry, MEPs like Sylvie Goulard, or progressive members of the French civil service, they are certain to know the EU inside out, further widening the experience divide between U.K. negotiators and the EU.
Macron, a potential challenge to Germany’s leadership in the EU
The German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said Macron’s victory posed a ‘challenge’ to Germany’s EU leadership, hinting that Macron’s pro-EU stance meant Germany would not lead the bloc on its own. The foreign minister said Macron’s victory “is also an order for us Germans. We will have to do more for Europe instead of just raising an index finger.”
Continuity in France’s relationship with the United States
Macron considers the United States France’s structural ally, but does not hesitate to criticize Trump’s views, notably on climate change or immigration, and will not hesitate to oppose him on issues where France defends diverging views and/or values.
France will remain a critical player in the transatlantic alliance, especially in terms of fighting terrorism. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s calls for the next French president to continue France’s commitment to fighting terrorism in the Sahel were revealing of the U.S.-French special relationship in defense matters. The central role played by current French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is advising Macron and would probably remain in a Macron government, should reassure the U.S. administration.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.