The French presidential election was viewed with anticipation by many, perhaps trepidation by many more. But with the votes cast and counted in the second ballot, social-liberal and pro-EU newbie Emmanuel Macron is the country’s next President. Securing 66,1% of the votes, Macron resoundingly defeated rival Marine Le Pen, leader of right-wing nationalist Front National (FN), who won 33,9% of the votes. Many across Europe will have breathed a sigh of relief at the election of centrist rather than populist candidate. So where does this ballot leave France and the EU?
Macron’s rise to the summit of French politics would have been unimaginable even 12 months ago. Formerly Economy Minister under outgoing Socialist President François Hollande, Marcon left the Socialist Party last year and set up his own new party En Marche!. Lacking both a well-established party and electoral experience, few would have bet on Macron to win the presidency. His victory is remarkable, but his challenges remain vast. While his win was comprehensive, you can’t ignore that a third of the country voted for the opposite of what Macron stands for. This election also had a relatively low turn-out and a record level of abstentions and invalid votes, demonstrating a measure of discontent with both candidates. It will be up to Macron to bring this clearly divided country back together.
Macron’s other pressing challenge will be to secure a majority in June’s Parliamentary elections. In order to implement his programme and avoid a political deadlock, the new President will need full support from the Assemblée Nationale throughout his presidency. With a brand-new party and no sitting MPs, Macron’s honeymoon period will be brief as he tries to convince French voters (many of whom cast ballot to avoid a Le Pen presidency rather than for him), to stick with him and not return to the parties they originally supported.
For Europe, it was another good election day. After the ballots in Austria and the Netherlands, Europhiles will be relieved to see the success of another pro-EU candidate. But Macron’s win doesn’t mean business as usual for Brussels. Even though the new President fully supports the European project, he has also made clear he seeks to reform many elements of it. He will already be thinking about ways to stop Le Pen winning the Presidency in 2022 and tackling the EU’s weaknesses head-on will be a way for him to appeal to those whose votes he failed to win at the weekend.
One of the main challenges for the EU in the next few years will be the Brexit negotiations. For both the EU and the UK the outcome of this election is positive. While Le Pen would have sought to take France out of the Eurozone and the EU, creating complete chaos on the EU side, Macron will provide stability as President of one of the most powerful countries in the bloc. However, his election won’t make the Brexit negotiations a walk in the park for the UK. In his manifesto, Macron called Brexit a “crime” and as a pro-EU economic liberal, he is unlikely to agree to anything that could jeapordise the internal market or the institutions that support it. Throughout his campaign, Macron also focused on improving Franco-German relations, which did not go unnoticed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was quick to hail Macron’s victory on Sunday. This could mark the start of a very powerful united bloc on the EU side as the Brexit negotiations get going. And, let’s not forget that the former investment banker will be acutely aware of the potential to lure financial powerhouses from the City of London to Paris, where there expanded presence would doubtless be a boon to a struggling French economy.
One thing is certain. Despite an impressive victory, Macron has many challenges lying ahead. In times of political turmoil, it will be up to him to give his Presidency that je ne sais quoi and lead France and Europe through these difficult times. Only time will tell how successful he will be.