Far-right halted as Macron crushes Le Pen

Out with the old: At 39 years of age, Macron is France’s youngest ever president.

The charismatic liberal Emmanuel Macron has emerged victorious from a divisive election. France’s new president is a passionate Europhile. Is he the man to save the troubled continent?

In one sense, yesterday’s presidential election was the least dramatic in modern French history. In another, it was the most.

The least, because Emmanuel Macron had a huge lead over his rival Marine Le Pen throughout the second-round campaign, so that his victory last night surprised no one. The most, because the stakes were so high.

French elections tend to be fought over domestic issues like the welfare state. Not this one. In recent years, French society has been tested by mass immigration and a spate of terrorist attacks, while the European Union has been weakened by political and economic events. In this context, the election’s main theme became France’s very identity, and its relationship with Europe.

Macron’s victory came as a relief to Europhiles. The new president, who had never been elected to office before, is a self-described European who welcomes immigrants and wants to develop the EU further. Meanwhile, Le Pen is a far-right nationalist who wants to shut down immigration and hold a referendum on France’s membership of the EU.

France is the second most powerful country in Europe, and the election of Le Pen would have posed a grave threat to the union. Instead, Macron’s victory fits a recent trend in Europe, where establishment candidates have outperformed Eurosceptic ones. After Brexit, the tide seems to be turning.

Not that Macron loves the EU as it is. The president knows that Le Pen picked up 34.5% of the vote, which speaks to widespread anger over how the union is run. He has called for “in-depth” reform of its institutions; while his proposals remain vague, he has criticised the current set-up of the euro zone for benefiting Germany at the expense of other nations.

But first, Macron must establish his mandate at home. Legislative elections will be held in June, and the president’s brand new party En Marche! lacks a strong political base. Should Macron fail to win a majority, his ability to govern will be limited. Is it too early to call him the EU’s saviour?

Je suis Européen

Yes, say some. Macron has yet to establish control over France, let alone Europe. Anyway, his victory does not change the fact that Eurosceptic parties are strong across the continent — to the point that mainstream politicians are starting to borrow their ideas. The EU’s problems are too big to be solved by a 39-year-old novice.

That is unfair, reply others. Macron is just what the EU needs: a dynamic outsider who argues that the union is worth keeping, but needs changing. His optimistic campaign gave hope to millions of voters, and as the leader of France, he carries a lot of influence abroad. He cannot save the EU on his own — but it would have died without him.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to live in France? Why (not)?
  2. Is the EU worth saving?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have launched your own political party. What would be its name, slogan, logo and main policies? Put all that information on a poster.
  2. What are the three main similarities and three main differences between the French and British political systems? Write a paragraph explaining each of your choices.

Some People Say...

“Victory without risk is triumph without glory.”

— French saying

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
As president, Macron is France’s head of state and effective head of the executive. He controls foreign and defence policy, and makes crucial appointments in the civil service and courts. He is more powerful than his counterparts in Germany and the UK.
What do we not know?
Whether En Marche! can gain control of the legislature in next month’s elections. It will field candidates in all of France’s 577 districts. Macron has pledged that 50% of them will not have been elected to parliament before, and 50% will be female.
What do people believe?
Given the party’s lack of money and political experience, and Macron’s strict rules on who can run, many analysts question whether he can win a majority. Some polls suggest he can. But if not, his power to pass laws will be limited.

Word Watch

Second-round
France’s presidential elections consist of two rounds. If nobody gets 50% of the vote in the first round, the top two candidates face off two weeks later in a second vote.
Political
Such as Brexit and the refugee crisis.
New president
Macron will probably be sworn in on May 15.
Never been elected
Macron served as economic minister to the outgoing president, François Hollande, before launching his own movement and resigning last year.
Second most powerful
Discounting the UK, France is Europe’s biggest economy after Germany. Those two countries are co-founders of the EU, and are seen as the union’s de facto leaders.
Outperformed
Austria’s Norbert Hofer and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, both far-right populists, did worse in elections than predicted. Meanwhile, the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany party has been losing support in that country.
Proposals
For example, Macron wants to give the euro zone its own budget and finance minister.
En Marche!
The name translates roughly as “On the Move”. Macron avoids the word “party”, preferring to call En Marche! a “movement”.

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