Relief in France and Europe as moderate Macron becomes France’s youngest President since Napoleon

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By Axel Krause

 

Paris, May 8, 2017

 

Last night, as the youthful, trim former investment banker who has never held elected office greeted an estimated 10,000 cheering, flag-waving supporters in the cold, vast courtyard of the Louvre Museum, having handily defeated his nationalist, far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, the accompanying carefully-planned victory music was, significantly – « Ode to Joy » from Beethoven’s ninth symphony, the official European Union anthem.

Thus, the 39-year-old, pro-EU Emmanuel Macron, having scored 66.1% of the national vote, compared to 33.9% scored by far-right Le Pen, gravely expressed thanks for becoming president-elect in the second-round voting, a first in recent history ; flanked by his ever-present, 64-year-old, blonde wife, divorced and mother of three, Brigitte, who is expected to play an unpaid rôle of some kind once they move into the presidential Elysée Palace.

The ceremony marking that event, with outgoing, highly-unpopular Socialist president Francois Hollande, who supported Macron, when he, unknown to most people, resigned as his hand-picked economy minister to run for the presidency, is planned for May 14.

As supporting  congratulatory messages flowed in throughout the evening – from leaders in Berlin, Brussels, Washington, Beijing, Ottawa nd Moscow, among others – Macron said : « I understand the divisions of our country that have led some to vote for extremists…I understand the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that a great part among us have also expressed….I will do everything I can in the coming five years to make sure you never have a reason to vote for extremism again.»

As among others the New York Times Paris bureau chief Alissa Rubin correctly noted, his victory « offered significant relief to the European Union, which Ms. Le Pen had threatened to leave,» and provided « signs » that the populist wave that included Brexit, and Donald Trump’s victory « may have crested in Europe, for now. »

That may be partly wishful thinking, but there is no doubting that Macron ‘s victory was something of a political earthquake for France, possibly a harbinger of upcoming elections. September in Germany and in 2018 in Italy ; as he proved successful as a centrist, appealing to those voters on the left and right, particularly young, urban men and women ; very similar in some ways to the 1974 election as president of similarly-centrist Valery Giscared d’Estaing.

« Like Macron, Giscard was convinced that the French were fed up with the class struggle and wanted an advanced liberal society, » wrote Paul Taylor of Politico Europe, arguing that « two thirds of the electorate rejected the extremes and were ready for pragmatic pro-market reforms…often compared at the time to John F. Kennedy. »

An excellent, detailed report, providing five reasons why Macron won, signed by Becky Branford, was posted yesterday on the BBC web site, which I highly recommended. The reasons : he got lucky, was canny, had a positive message, appeared to be proposing something new and faced a strong opponent who came across as negative, notably about the European Union.

 

What’s next ? How and with whom  will Macron implement his pro-EU, NATO-supportive, business friendly program ?

The pugnacious president of the influential national employers association, the MEDEF, Pierre Gattaz told France Inter radio station today that he sees Macron as a mixture of Britain’s Tony Blair and Social Democracy, representing a « renouveau » with whom he is looking forward to cooperating in creating what he termed a « French model. » And that would involve, as priorities, lowering taxes, corporation charges, among other  business-friendly reforms, that include nationwide job-training programs. « We the MEDEF will be neither opponents nor partisans…it is urgent to implement reforms. »

Meantime, Germany’s Social Democrat party leader Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament along with Chancelor Angela Merkel whom he is opposing in the September elections, were among the first of the leaders praising Macron and offering support for cooperation. They will meet soon in Berlin, reportedly as the first foreign visit planned by Macron as France’s president.

As of this writing there have been no reliable indications as to who Macron will pick as his prime minister who will be playing the all-important part in leading whatever party Macron forms in the two-round parliamentary elections June 11-18. Currently, the Socialists, with allies control the 577-seat National Assembly.

What some would term a party that propelled Macron to the presidency – En Marche ! (Moving foward) – is more of a grass-roots operation, not a structured party ;  so-called people-powered, that was partly inspired by Barack Obama’s successful strategy during his 2008 presidential election campaign.

As the search for a prime minister and a cabinet gets underway, with results most likely to be announced prior to, or around, the time of the Sunday meeting between Macron and Hollande, many questions remain. For example, the emerging power of Le Pen’s National Front party, whose name and methods she has pledged to reform as soon as possible ; noting her party is now the largest opposition party in the country, reflected in the voting ; she attracted a record 10.6 million votes.

Members of her staff claim she should be able to win around 200 seats in the new legislature, a goal many experts consider wishful thinking and reject as unreliable.

But she cearly has no intention of stepping aside, nor softening her right-wing French-first, populist, anti-EU, pro-Putin rhetoric, even if Macron succeeds in implementing the reforms France so badly needs.

 

Axel Krause, the Paris-based contributing editor of TransAtlantic Magazine, has covered  France for decades, as corresponent and editor for Business Week Magazine and the International Herald Tribune. He is the author of Inside the New Europe.

 

 

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