En Marche?

Jeremy Harding

Emmanuel Macron’s success in France on Sunday was not the result of a consensual ‘republican front’ behind which voters could rally against Marine Le Pen in round two. In 2002, when her father reached the second round, a wave of anguish was followed by stoical nose-holding, as the many opponents of Jacques Chirac’s presidency trudged to the polls and voted him into office: anything but Jean-Marie Le Pen. Chirac took 82 per cent of the vote on a turnout of 80 per cent; 5 per cent spoiled their ballots or left them blank. Le Pen Sr knew a republican front when he saw one. He snarled at its huge following and told them to vote with saucepans on their heads: that way they’d look like the fools that they were.

Macron’s margin is not as comfortable as Chirac’s, but 66.1 per cent to Marine Le Pen’s 33.9 is good on the face of it. And he added 12 million votes (about 42 per cent of votes cast in the second round) to his first-round tally. But the level of abstention was 25.4 per cent – the highest for a second round in nearly half a century – and 11.5 per cent of voters spoiled their ballots or left them blank. In other words, Macron is in on roughly 44 per cent of the eligible vote, better than the margin for Brexit last June, but scarcely a walkover.

The incoming president is a dedicated European. He hopes to sell the idea of reform to an electorate that is ambivalent on Europe or frankly Eurosceptic. He’s proposing a new Eurozone parliament with representatives from the 19 states that use the single currency, empowered to debate a combined budget and put it to the vote. A Eurozone minister of economy and finance would execute the wishes of the parliament. In other words, southern states like Portugal and Greece would be allowed to fight it out with highly capitalised northern states, which have fared better in the currency union. The recent accession states to the east, and France – whose voters clearly see their country as a north-south hybrid – would throw their weight one way or the other.

Macron thinks he can appease the French protectionist urge by persuading Brussels to regulate third-party investment, mostly from Asia, in key European sectors. There is also a suggestion for citizen’s agreements (‘conventions’) in member-states on policies formulated in Brussels.

None of this, or other elements in his programme, will settle the minds of his opponents. The first round of these elections was fought over the fundamental nature of ‘the system’, which, as Perry Anderson explained recently in Le Monde diplomatique, is no longer seen by disillusioned citizens in Europe as ‘capitalism’ in the broadest sense, but as a particular ‘variant’ characterised by ‘deregulated financial flows, privatised services and escalating social inequality’. Macron intends, at most, to tweak the variant.

For the far right, his realism makes him a treacherous cosmopolitan; for the left he is business-as-usual, with more than a whiff of the party of François Hollande. It’s striking how many of Macron’s close entourage have been PS sympathisers, members, wonks or wealthy donors, but hardly a surprise that Manuel Valls, Hollande’s former prime minister, wishes to stand for Macron’s party – renamed La République en marche and equipped with a new interim president – as the hunt begins for candidates to run in parliamentary elections next month (a.k.a. ‘round three’).

Two days before Sunday’s vote, Macron was invited to the editorial offices of Mediapart for a long but respectful grilling. The comments section was flooded by a torrent of bile, mostly from gauchiste trolls. It was as though Mediapart had sullied its credentials by having the ‘bankster’ candidate in the building. Yet the threat to the next administration will not be ostracism and loathing from the left or right: Macron’s promises look shaky and his policies like new panels on an old car. He will have more to fear from his supporters than his enemies.


  • 10 May 2017 at 5:21am
    farthington says:
    I'm with the Mediapart 'gauchiste trolls'.
    M's eurozone parliament will never happen. There will never be a social Europe.
    Europe is on Germany's terms or not at all.
    Meanwhile, what does M intend to do about the farce that is intra EU tax haven beggar-my-neighbour?
    France is at the mercy not merely of those outside, plus the City (half in half out good riddance) but of Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands.
    M intends to do nothing at all, which is why the billionaire-owned media promoted him out of total public obscurity.
    SO much easier to undermine the modicum of security that the less privileged enjoy for now. The gendarmerie will handle the consequences.

    • 16 May 2017 at 3:50pm
      martyn94 says: @ farthington
      So it was the Illuminati wot done it, as ever.

  • 10 May 2017 at 11:02am
    Bartleby says:
    There's a frustrating omission from most of the commentary on the outcome of this election, albeit this is a more sophisticated piece with other things to say.

    In their eagerness to create a narrative the media routinely ignore the inconvenient fact that the one reason Macron had so much as a sniff in this election is the perceived corruption of Fillon. Without the allegations against Fillon arising during the campaign, he'd have strolled to victory. The centre right could still have won easily by installing a late replacement (e.g. Juppe). The story of the election is their failure to replace him even when his catastrophic shedding of votes became obvious. It left a lot of people with simply no-one to vote for.

    Macron simply won by default in the absence of a remotely credible mainstream alternative. The strength of his movement and appeal is hinted at by the fact that Fillon ran him close notwithstanding the quite incredibly bad headlines he was getting day after day. I think this also partly explains the level of abstentions.

    But hey, why ruin a good story about the return of centrist politics etc.

  • 10 May 2017 at 11:17am
    piffin says:
    If "Macron's promises look shaky and his policies like new panels on an old car", then why should he have "more to fear from his supporters than his enemies"? Or are you suggesting that his supporters were too stupid not to recognise what you do about his promises and policies? If so, is that not the very same view that "gauchiste trolls" have of Macron supporters?

  • 12 May 2017 at 3:36pm
    XopherO says:
    Juppe was tainted with corruption as well - confirmed in court! unlike Fillon (so far) - covered up a bit by his apparent success in Bordeaux. He is unlikely to have done better, which the party knew.

    But I find all the above contributions as somewhat meaningless speculation before Macron has even taken office and named his prime minister, and particularly before the Assembly elections. His economic policies are very likely to be determined by whatever coalition emerges - and I will speculate that it will be a coalition, and that the PS will do better than some imagine. It is a completely different kind of election. I cannot see the FN doing much better. Le Pen is surely now a drag on the FN's future - they will be tempted to appoint someone else before the next Presidentiel.

    But the view of France from the UK has always been negative, driven by the red tops. I have had connections with France for 40 years and I cannot remember a time when the English have not claimed that France is sinking, and an economic basket-case. Even today it has less debt and much higher productivity than the UK. Part of the reason for higher unemployment is precisely that productivity, and much greater innovation. Technology can be a curse, can't it!

    • 16 May 2017 at 4:07pm
      fbkun says: @ XopherO
      Juppé wasn't convicted for diverting public money to his own pocket --- there's a difference.

  • 15 May 2017 at 9:25am
    Bartleby says:
    The party knew no such thing. There was plenty of polling evidence that Juppe would have had a much better chance, notwithstanding his issues, if he was dropped in at the last minute. An untainted alternative (surely there is one) would have strolled it. The fact that someone with Juppe's record could perform so much better, without even campaigning, than Fillon, just highlights how disfunctional a decision it was to stick with Fillon.

    There are parallels with Corbyn but also with the US presidential election where, as if to deliberately maintain our interest, both parties chose the only candidate who was likely to lose to the other party's chosen candidate. I suppose all this amounts to is that political parties do not always make obviously rational decisions, which probably shouldn't be a surprise.

  • 16 May 2017 at 4:05pm
    fbkun says:
    Expressing the disgust one feels at the sight of someone who, while being the epitome of the system in France, claims to be an outsider, hardly makes one a "gauchiste troll". I, for one, am proud in any case to be called a "gauchiste troll" if that means that I refused to choose between the fascist and the bankster. He's not my president, and he and those who worship him like a guru (usually the kind of people who hardly ever have any opinion on any political question, but who confuse "young" with "new" and have been swept away by the quasi-chritic postures of their idol during the campaign) will very soon understand that his weight in the public opinion does not exceed the 24% (less than 20% of those eligible to vote) who voted for him in the first round. Hollande too thought he would get Merkel to move towards his ideas on the EU. He went (to Berlin), he saw, and he lost.

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