France’s moderate Macron leads far-right Le Pen in final round of presidential race May 7

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By Axel Krause

Paris, April 24, 2017

 

In what Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid termed the « New French Revolution, » and in what amounted to a devastating blow to long-governing left and right-wing parties, the dashing, 39-year-old former investment banker Emmanuel Macron scored a winning 23.8% of the high-turnout first round of voting for the presidency yesterday,.

Hard-hitting, populist, anti-European Union Marine Le Pen trailed with 21.4%.

The upshot is that they will square off in the final round with deep, totally-divergent platforms – hers a mixture of nationalism, populism, protectionism anti-globalization, with a dose of racism ; his a mixture of business-friendly reforms and support for further EU integration and the Western alliance.

Yet with no hint of how, in case of victory in followup parliamentary elections June 11-18 they would actually govern.

The Socialist Party whose presidential candidate, Benoit Hamon took a severe beating yesterday with only 6.3% of the vote, currently dominates the outgoing, 577-seat National Assembly, and needs 289 to maintain control, which most observers agree will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.

« It’s (about) patriots versus globalists (battling) for the soul of France, » Politico Europe editorialized today, though I would add it’s also about the soul of Europe and its EU institutions plus NATO launched with strong US support in post World War II era, that Ms. Le Pen has pledged she would dismantle if elected president.

Yesterday evening, claiming a victory of sorts, yet with her disappointed aides wishing they had scored at least 28%, she described what’s ahead as « a referendum for or against lawless globalization…either you choose in favor of a total lack of rules without borders with unleashed competition, the free civilization of terrorists, or you make the choice of a France that protects. »

Meantime, in calm, measured tones, Macron told his flag-waving, cheering supporters that he is fully commited to opening a « new era » in « France and Europe » and constructing a « new majority » in the National Assembly, which he has stated repeatedly would somehow transcend the traditional left and right-leaning parties.

But he has provided no details on how he would achieve this goal, for as France Inter radio this morning correctly concluded : the first round voting amounted to « an explosion » with the dour, traditional,  neo-Gaullist,  right wing-candidate François Fillon scoring only 19.9%. No other party even came close. Conservative, anti-Euro Nicolas Dupont-Aigan scored 4.7% ; five other marginal candidates even less, ranging from 1.2% to 0.1%.

But Fillon, plagued by scandals involving improper use of government funds as we noted in this space last week, has, like most moderate leaders on the left and the right, shortly after learning the outcome, came out in favor of Macron, proclaiming their primary goal is blocking Ms Le Pen from winning the Elysée Palace.

Indeed, a nationwide poll released late last night by the respected IPSOS agency showed Macron scoring an overwhelming 62% of the final vote, soundly defeating Ms. Le Pen. Relieved and supportive of the result, European markets rallied this morning on news of the outcome.

Explaining Macron’s strategy, Gerard Collomb, the Socialist mayor of Lyon and an early Macron supporter, told France 2 television network that the key is, nevertheless, « reaching out » to all moderate parties, willing to support Macron’s leftist-leaning but moderate platform, irrespective of previous affiliation, warning that a Le Pen victory  raises the prospects of a « civil war. »

As the respected daily Libération daily today echoed : « the former minister of François Hollande succeeded in a (electroral)  climb » that it described as « dazzling » representing a « backhanded reversal » of the strategy of traditonal parties, by embodying a « renewal » of sorts.

Maybe so, but it is no secret that Macron remains an outsider, having never held public office which is both an advantage and handicap and that he created his own party, En Marche !, with the blessing of President François Hollande who declined to run for another, five-year term, citing record low support.

Assessing the results with Italian friends yesterday evening, and reflecting views of political observers in Rome, they noted that Macron reminded them in many ways of their former, still-active youthful prime minister Matteo Renzi whose main previous political experience was mayor of Florence. We described him in this space in February 2014 appearing to many as an inexperienced political lightweight, declaring his admiration for Barack Obama and Britain’s Tony Blair.

In Germany, there were clear expressions of relief among mainstream media and government leaders. Mainly, the relief stemmed from Macron’s strong, pro-EU views, meaning « for the future of Europe, » wrote Michaela Wiegel, the longtime Paris correspondent of the conservative-leading Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

She also noted that Macron has had encouraging talks about cooperation wih both governing officials and those in the Socialist Party, including former Social Democrat president of the European Parliament, MartinSchulz, running against Chancellor Angela Merkel in its Setember national election.

Macrons’s strong chances of winding up as France’s president shows clearly – as the markets rightly agreed – that the emergence of right-wing, populist governments in key EU-memberstates is by no means inevitable and that their challenges can be met successfully.

 

Axel Krause is the Paris-based contributing editor of TransAtlantic Magazine, and has covered France for decades, and has also been correpondent, bureau chief and editor in Moscow and Wshington. He is the author of Inside the New Europe.

 

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