Will Macron be able to deliver?
At the time when this article was being written, we knew that most opinion polls were giving the frontrunner centrist Emmanuel Macron a 20-point lead over his opponent Marine Le Pen. We were perhaps puzzled by the announcement of the hard-leftist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon and center-right candidate François Fillon - both defeated in the first presidential round on 23 April - that they would not vote for any candidate in the second round. We also knew that in spite of the strong support by Brussels and Berlin, a significant number of French voters were still skeptical of Macron’s ability to lead the country out of its twin difficulties: A faltering economy and terrorism. Many may choose not to vote at all.
We also knew that for the first time in the history of the French Republic, the most likely candidate did not belong to an established party represented in the parliament. Macron, with his newly formed movement, En Marche!, remained vague about the details of his political program, focusing more on the negative points of his opponent. Yet if he becomes president, Macon will have to work with parliament to secure his reforms. And he will have to work hard to construct alliances for his pro-European ideas with a new Assembly of 577 members to be elected on June 11 and 18, in just over a month’s time.
And it is noteworthy that yesterday’s elections took place while France is still under a state of emergency. More than 50,000 police secured the smooth running of the election. But it did take place under the shadow of a massive hacking attack against Emmanuel Macron, which bore close resemblance to a similar attack against Hillary Clinton during last year’s U.S. presidential campaign.
A Macron victory, if it is so, will be a significant development in both France and Europe. It will have prevented the ultra-nationalist right from coming to power under Le Pen, whose “France for the French” and “the EU is dead” rhetoric echoed the ruthless Brexit campaign in the U.K., which has now put Britain on a long and nasty collision course with Brussels, with the British public still in confusion.
As soon as he entered the presidential race, Macron was seen by advocates of the EU as somebody who will save European values, democracy and unity. But not all agree. Some find him too apolitical, a neoliberal who may destroy the traditional principles of French society. Others find him “pale and fragile, ambitious but inadequate.”
Europe has been going through multiple problems for some time. As a geographical, cultural and economic entity that insists on the idea of a united community under a single currency, the onslaught of the massive global financial crisis seven years ago brought it near breaking point, with centrifugal tendencies from some of its members threatening its core structure. That crisis was followed by the disastrous “Arab Spring” and the wars in Iraq and Syria, which pushed millions of people out of their homelands and into Europe as refugees. It is no surprise that Germany, and particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose original open call for refugees from Syria launched the unstoppable flow of refugees into Europe more than two years ago, is so enthusiastic about having Macron as her main interlocutor in running Europe.
“He is staunchly pro-EU. I haven’t the slightest doubt that if Macron wins, which is what I hope for, he would be a strong president,” Merkel said last Saturday. As the head of the strongest economy in Europe, she sees Macron as her reliable future ally if she is re-elected in her country’s national election in September. Brussels feels the same way.
But the ones who are understandably most enthusiastic are the Greeks. “I am in favor of the principle of restructuring the Greek debt, and keeping Greece in the Eurozone,” he said only last week. “Why? Because the current system is not viable. There is no chance for Greece to reshape to become a stable economy, inside the Eurozone, with this level of national debt. We have to find security valves, to reach a collective agreement, and to know that we will arrive at this point. I will lead this struggle as I believe it is inevitable and will restore our collective credibility.”
This sounds very sweet for Alexis Tsipras’s government, which is just about to conclude a long and frustrating review with the country’s creditors for a new tranche of bail-out funds. It was a pale and fragile former Rothschild banker who proposed the restructuring of Greece’s debt. I have my doubts but I hope for the best.