Emanuel Macron, candidate of the centrist movement En Marche! (Which can mean both “on the move” and “it works/functions”) will be the new French president, after he achieved a landslide victory in the second round over the extreme right candidate Marine Le Pen.
For anyone who opposes populism and xenophobia in the Western Hemisphere, this result has come as a great relief. Many stakeholders have warned that a possible victory of Marine Le Pen would mean the final end of the European Union.
However, there are many reasons why “Europhiles” should not cheer on yet another defeat of the extreme right (earlier this year, parliamentary elections were held in the Netherlands). This year’s presidential elections in France brought an unprecedented success of the anti-EU and anti-establishment political options -for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, both candidates in the second round were representatives of the mainstream political parties. Marine Le Pen won the largest number of votes in the history of the National Front. Moreover, in the first round of presidential election, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon was convincing with 19.5% of votes while Emanuel Macron founded his movement only shortly before the presidential elections. On the other hand, the Socialist Party suffered the biggest defeat in history with 6.3% of votes, while the moderate right party, whose candidate Francois Fillon emerged as the favourite for the President until the discovery of the so-called scandal “Penelopegate”, finished in the third place. It is also interesting that this election saw a record in the number of protest votes – as much as 12% of the votes in the second round were invalid.
These data would not be so worrying if the parliamentary election was not scheduled for the following month. Macron, therefore, has an almost impossible task to avoid cohabitation, a characteristic of the French semi-presidential system in which the head of state is not a member of a political party which makes up a parliamentary majority. Cohabitation was a regular occurrence before the referendum in 2000, when scheduling parliamentary and presidential elections became coordinated. Bearing in mind the divided political scene in France and inexperience of Macron’s movement in politics, this short period between elections and the “linked winners” logic will not necessarily work in Macron’s favour. From technical and logistical point of view, Macron must obtain a majority in the parliament (at least 289 deputies), which will certainly require mobilisation of members of the Movement both in financial (movements in France are financed exclusively by donations from their members) and numerical terms (Movement currently has 250 000 supporters). However, criteria for candidates of the En Marche! movement for becoming MPs is very sharp: 50% of them should not have previous political experience; 50% should be women; if they have previously been politically active, they need to renounce party affiliation; and should be of different ethnic origin. Realistically, Macron needs to make a tremendous organisational endeavour in the next six weeks. When it comes to programme and substance-related issues, if Macron wants to attract higher number of supporters and ensure a majority, he will have to pay additional attention to topics on which he disagrees with his political opponents. This is specifically relevant for his views on the European Union and economic policy. During his election campaign, Macron was seen as the biggest “Europhile” out of all candidates as well as an advocate of liberal economics. He has already tried to soften this image of himself in the last weeks of his campaign and when he addressed the public after winning, stating that he will “protect France, Europe, and that he will strengthen the ties between European countries and their citizens”. The question, however, is whether such softening of approach will result in losing or gaining more supporters.
Where will the EU go after the French election?
In any case, the important observation after this year’s French presidential elections is enormous dissatisfaction that the French expressed towards the European Union through their political representatives, presidential candidates. Open opponents of the EU – Le Pen and Melanson – together won over 40% of the vote, while representatives of the moderate right and the left have had very few words and arguments in relation to the EU in their political programs. Macron, on the other hand, is pro-European oriented but he explicitly stated that today’s EU is unsustainable and must be changed, otherwise it will experience “Frexit”. As future president of France, Macron promised to be the first among the EU leaders to push for reform.
Reform initiatives will have to be carried out, in response to the reactions of French voters. In this reform, unfortunately, for now there is no place nor talk about the further enlargement – Macron himself, as well as his potential coalition partner Fillon, both said in their campaigns that the EU should not be thinking about the admission of new members, given the present circumstances. This is also the attitude of 69% of the citizens of France, according to a Eurobarometer survey (admittedly from 2014, although it is difficult to expect that something has changed in favour of the candidate countries).