Over the last few months the entire world has been actively monitoring the French presidential elections and electoral environment. In light of the important challenges faced by the EU and strengthening of populism throughout the world, it comes as no surprise that future leader of France, one of the important members of the Union and a founding member state, is of a particular interest for international media.
The interest was further intensified by the fact that there was no clear winner during the pre-election period. Although Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron were leading other candidates, constantly changing poll results left everyone with a feeling of uncertainty. In addition, the leading candidates did not belong to any of the so-called mainstream political parties (the Republicans or the Socialists), and it is safe to say that as recently as a year ago only a few would have predicted victory of France’s former minister of economy in the presidential elections. These elections were a clear testament for the world and especially for the EU that threats of populism are very real and pose a threat to the Union and its most important values.
Macron’s victory was another chance that the French people gave to pro-European liberalism. His victory is also great news for Europe. After Brexit Marine Le Pen’s success in the elections would have put a big question mark over France’s membership of the EU and the future of the union in general. However, the fact that pro-European Macron won the elections does not mean that problems that exist in the EU will take care of themselves or euroscepticism will reduce significantly. Great Britain’s referendum and France’s elections have clearly illustrated that populist and eurosceptic political parties have a lot of supporters. Everyone in Europe, including the newly elected President, highlights the need to reform the EU but what the reform actually means is a separate matter.
Emmanuel Macron’s European plan focuses on reforming the Union. Macron plans to put a special emphasis on strengthening the Franco-German partnership. Partnership between the two countries that served as a foundation for creating the Union 60 years ago still has the potential to spearhead the process of seeking solutions for common European problems. Many would agree that without Germany’s active support it would be difficult for France to implement meaningful reforms in the EU. Prospects of possible Franco-German alliance as a driving force for reforming the EU will somehow depend on outcomes of Germany’s parliamentary elections.
Strengthening Eurozone is an important part of Macron’s plan. Other important initiatives include common European fiscal policy, creating Eurozone budget and the office of the Minister of Economy and Finances, etc.
It is also important that Macron’s foreign policy views are mostly based on the principle of openness, while developing France into a more independent and a strong global actor is an important focus of his policy. To this end, Macron plans to rely on a strong partnership with other countries and international organizations, as opposed to an isolationism. He views EU membership as a way to strengthen France’s global role, which Macron reiterated during his first public speech after winning the elections delivered against the background of the European anthem.
France remains engulfed in the election fever. In July the French people will vote for members of the legislature. Parliamentary election will be pivotal for Macron’s presidency, because it will decide if the President will have a support of the majority or not. Emmanuel Macron founded the En Marche! party one year ago. Macron’s win of the presidential elections does not guarantee the party’s success in the parliamentary elections. Young leader of the new party may find it hard to staff the parliamentary majority with his own party.
It is most likely that the parliamentary elections will be as unpredictable as the presidential election. If Macron fails to secure the parliamentary majority through elections, his party may need to form a coalition with larger parties with the aim of helping Macron implement the reforms that he has promised in a prompt and smooth manner.
Although Macron garnered high percentage of votes in the run-off of the elections (66%), voter turnout was lower compared to previous years (voter turnout in the run-offs was 83.97% in 2007, 80.35% in 2012, and 74.62% in 2017). For the first time since 1969, voter turnout in the run-off was lower than in the first round of the elections (77.77%).
Results of the first round of the presidential elections (Emmanuel Macron - -23.8%, Marine Le Pen – 21.5%, Francois Fillon - 19.9%, Jean-Luc Melenchon - 19.6%, Benoit Hamon – 6.4%) illustrated how polarized French voters are. Therefore, it is difficult to predict what choice they will make in the parliamentary elections. Here we must also consider the factor of Le Pen’s party National Front. Clearly, the National Front as well as other parties will put up an active fight in the elections, in order to ensure that the party of the newly elected president does not gain majority.
Macron’s victory has awakened optimism in Europe, which is exactly what it needs right now. May 7 presidential election is considered as sort of a referendum for France, where French voters chose Europe. This is great news for EU’s neighborhood as well – victory of the pro-European candidate not only increases chances of strengthening EU’s role as a global actor and provides the world with a leader that has a strong stance against Russia, but it also creates a possible window of opportunity for countries that are on the path towards the European integration, including for Georgia. Therefore, it is important to utilize this momentum and define steps following the visa-liberalization.
Under these circumstances French, European and international societies will be closely monitoring future performance of the newly elected president of France. His victory gave Europe a promising change in the crisis situation, which puts even more responsibility on Macron’s shoulders. However, until then to strengthen his positions in France Macron will have to prove that his presidency will not be about continuing François Hollande’s policies, or as the French say „faire du neuf avec du viex” (trying to make something new out of something old).