Thursday, April 27, 2017

Good Day for Europe: French elections

“Isn’t it funny that all these people who pretend to be En Marche (“On the Move”) take a metro?” said a metro driver of the line number 12 in the Porte de Versailles station in Paris on Sunday night. On 23 April 2017, the leader of En Marche! Emmanuel Macron who spurred 8 million 657 thousand (24%) voters won the first round. Those people who instead of marching took a line number 12 where heading to a celebration rally where 39-year-old former minister of economy delivered a speech. His campaign team’s tireless door-knocking and leaflet-stuffing have paid off.

What does the victory of Emmanuel Macron in a first round mean for the EU and France?
The outcomes are remarkable in several respects. For Europe, Macron’s victory shows that being openly pro-European does not automatically mean a downfall. Even though only 38% of the French people had a positive view about the European Union in Spring 2016, being in the EU is more important than leaving it. It gives optimism and hope that the EU project is still appealing. Additionally, it’s a test case in Europe for whether a liberal Western democracy can prevent nationalist populism from spreading across the region. Emmanuel Macron wants to reinforce the Franco-German vehicle of the EU, and we can expect, if we like it or not in V4, that the two speed Europe would become a reality.  

For France, this election means a political earthquake that will bring a break-up of the French two party system. For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, created in 1958, neither mainstream political party has entered the run-off for the presidency. However, the legislative election in June will show whether the change is thorough or sketchy. Even in Spain which had a huge indignados movement, the break-up of the two-party system was only partial. The opinion polls that favoured the new parties such as “Ciudadanos” or “Podemos” were not compatible with the results in the elections which meant that the two traditional Spanish parties have still a majority in the Parliament, and Mariano Rajoy, leader of a conservative Popular Party (PP) was re-elected as Prime Minister in 2016.

Secondly, this election shows that there is an appetite for change in France but also that they will leave France divided. The voters chose two rival world views for the runoff and the race is close. Emmanuel Macron resembles openness, economic reforms in order to “unblock” the French economy and support the transatlantic alliance. Marine Le Pen is all the contrary. She vows to hold a referendum on taking France out of the European Union, and thus the euro; to close the borders to immigration and to introduce protectionist trade barriers.

Finally, democracy is vibrant in France and the people go for it. French people complain but also mobilise themselves. They take the future of their country into their own hands. The high turnout of 78,69% in the first round is the best example (to compare with 80,42% in 2012).

Who has the better chance to win the second round?
We should not ask if but how much Emmanuel Macron would win the runoff. Given the fact that the voters from the centre-right and left want to keep Marine Le Pen out, whatever their reservations, they will vote for Mr. Macron in the second round. This was a case in 2002 when the left-wing voters followed Jacques Chirac, thanks to which he won with over 82% against Jean-Marie Le Pen. Polls taken before first-round voting consistently suggested that Emmanuel Macron would beat Ms. Le Pen by some 20 points in a head-to-head contest. It means that Mr. Macron will have much less than Mr. Chirac 15 years ago, so Marine Le Pen will have less of the battle.
Kinga Brudzińska
GLOBSEC Policy Institute

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