THE ELECTION of 39-year-old centrist neophyte Emmanuel Macron as President of France raises more problems than it will solve, and almost guarantees the continued growth in support for the far-Right Front National led by Marine Le Pen; Macron’s victory — whilst ostensibly convincing — portends ongoing instability whilst a reasonable slate of economic-based policies misses the point. A boilover, five years hence, is a virtual certainty.
About the nicest thing I can find to say of socialists who win elections in Western countries at the moment — or even, as in this case, those who call themselves “centrists” — is that their greatest impact is almost invariably to speed the election of their opponents, and to hasten the decline of their parties; today’s news is a little different, for France’s new President is yet to be tested on any meaningful level, and is yet to translate his support into a party structure at all, let alone kill it off on account of his actions.
But the news that “centrist” Emmanuel Macron has been elected overnight as President of France’s Fifth Republic is unremarkable, despite the 2:1 split of votes in his favour; newspaper reports crowing that Macron’s victory was the “second-largest win since 1965” ignore the fact that the largest was recorded by Jacques Chirac over the far-Right Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, and that yesterday’s triumph was over the same far-Right organisation, led by Le Pen’s daughter, which nevertheless doubled its support based on the 2002 result.
I’m not what one would ordinarily characterise as a supporter of the Front National, but quite literally — if forced to choose between Macron and Marine Le Pen — the latter would be preferable, even if a peg was required to secure my nose before making such a judgement.
First things first: readers may wish to peruse reports of the French election from other press sources here and here; I am also including a comment piece tonight from Robert Gottliebsen, for the itinerary of Macron policies it details are in fact a double-edged sword in terms of the new President’s likely impact — and his political fortunes henceforth.
But like Justin Trudeau in Canada — a barely reconstructed warrior of the illiberal Left who is, in any case, making a fine botch of his job — Macron arrives at the Élysée Palace with no appreciable political experience; briefly a minister under the outgoing Socialist regime, it is arguable the new President has fashioned himself as a “centrist” for no better reason than to run out on his old mates at the Socialist Party, and to distance himself from the wreckage of the presidency of Francois Holland for personal political advancement.
Even the lamentable Trudeau stands innocent of such a charge of political bastardry.
Macron will quickly find — especially if the centre-Right Les Républicains seize control of France’s National Assembly, as seems probable — that glib lines and a facile (if photogenic) media facade are poor armaments with which to fight the very real problems France faces as it marches toward the 20s: the high levels of immigration under the EU’s “freedom of movement” charter that, in turn, are fuelling social unrest and dislocation; resentment among the indigenous population toward France’s burgeoning Muslim population; the ongoing (and seemingly permanent) spectre of terrorist attacks; and growing hostility toward Brussels, as the anti-EU sentiment that led to Brexit in the UK gestates and develops across much of the continental mainland beyond Germany.
On one interpretation, scoring 65% of the vote in a two-candidate runoff is a landslide by any measure.
Yet the 35% scored by Le Pen, against a candidate untarnished by the scandals and controversy that dogged Chirac through much of his tenure, shows that not only has the Front National doubled its support in the 15 years since it last reached a runoff, but suggests its potential vote may even have been depressed by the resolute refusal of all other parties to endorse Le Pen against Macron — even those on the Right and/or of a similar anti-EU bent.
During the campaign, Le Pen suggested that France would be run by a woman irrespective of the election result: either herself, or German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was a powerful line, and one that will resonate strongly in the years ahead should Macron falter, or fail to deliver as Hollande did, or if he is seen to be little more than the tail on Germany’s dog.*
The policies Macron has been elected upon — as detailed by Gottliebsen — are, in themselves, innocuous enough.
But the bulk of this program — tax cuts, strongly enforced borders, a smaller public service, reduced social security contributions (read: superannuation), and a raft of pro-business measures — would comfortably form the platform of a centre-Right government in most Western countries.
The problem is that most, if not all of it, is unlikely to ever be implemented: Macron’s old chums on the Left are likely to be disinclined to make a success of him, and his would-be mates on the Right (should they prevail in elections later this month for the National Assembly) are likely to want far stronger measures than Macron is prepared to offer.
One of the problems with standing as President in France without a political party (let alone one to hijack, as some claim Donald Trump did in the USA) is that if successful, one ends up with no power base at all: and if candidates from Macron’s En Marche! movement fail to make huge inroads, his presidency will be doomed before it even starts.
Such is the predicament of a 39-year-old kid with delusions of adequacy: the child President in difficult times, in a hostile and fast-evolving geopolitical landscape, is odds-on to deliver an absolute debacle.
Anyone who stands for office with failed socialist Barack Obama cheering from one corner, and unelectable megalomaniac Hillary Clinton cheering from the other, hardly constitutes an ideal candidate for anything.
But all of this aside, it is France’s social problems — not its economy, which Macron’s policies are squarely aimed at — that will form his greatest challenge, and his failure to offer more to address these speaks to an appalling naivety at best, or a culpable dereliction of responsibility at worst.
Echoes of the idiot-simple Obama creed of seeing the good in people, and focusing on the virtues of potential and achievement and striving for success, are simply not good enough in a country that at times has appeared primed to explode.
To the outside observer, France has become a powderkeg; unable to cope with the social stresses of integrating massive numbers of immigrants, and unable to resolve the dislocation and simmering tensions those who have already arrived have sparked, Macron’s is likely to simply be the latest in a procession of French administrations — from both the Left and the Right — that have, through reprehensible ineptitude on social policy, hastened the decline of France as a society, a state, and as a power.
Ongoing interference from the EU — especially if Britain is seen to exit the union on terms favourable to itself, and with minimal domestic fallout — can only spur the anti-EU sentiment that is already bubbling within the French population. If Merkel is seen to run France, as Le Pen suggests, the moderate undercurrent of demand for a “Frexit” will become a stampede.
All of this points to ongoing growth in the support the Front National is able to command: and in five years’ time Le Pen, who hasn’t been as badly beaten this week as a cursory inspection of the margin might suggest, will almost certainly stand again.
At that point, all bets would be off. If I were inclined to wager a tenner, though, I’d expect her to win: whilst we wish Macron well and hope he succeeds, the overwhelming likelihood is that he won’t.
If and when he doesn’t, France will turn Right. The question is how much damage the country will sustain in the five years before its next opportunity to elect its monarch.
*No implication that Merkel is a dog is intended. I am simply using the old “tail wagging the dog” analogy.