Emmanuel Macron Defeats Marine Le Pen To Be Reelected As France's President
Emmanuel Macrons wins the Presidential race.
Marine Le Pen performs better than last time.
Relief for EU and NATO.
2017 not an aberration, structural change in French politics with parties that dominated post war politics declining.
France remains a divided society with voice of those who paid the price of globalisation growing louder.
The incumbent Emmanuel Macron has won the French elections, defeating his rival Marine Le Pen for the second time. Projections at the end of voting are usually reliable and they showed Macron winning 58.5 per cent of the votes compared to Le Pen winning 41.5 per cent.
Macron's victory is much narrower than his previous victory against Le Pen, when Macron won 66.1 per cent of the votes and Le Pen won 33.9 per cent.
Addressing a crowd at Champ De Mars, Macron said that this was a victory for a "more independent France and stronger Europe". Le Pen has conceded defeat although the grace with which she could have done that was tempered due to the fact that in June France will be holding its legislative elections. “French people have this evening shown their desire for a strong counter power to Emmanuel Macron," she said.
Macron's victory is a relief for Brussels and Washington DC. Le Pen intended to leave NATO's integrated command and to implement a national preference for French citizens in jobs and housing, which would have undermined EU's single market principle.
Macron is the first French president to be reelected since 2002. Although Le Pen has succeeded in bringing her party closer to power and there are no indications that she intends to hang her boots.
Le Pen's victory would have been a terrible development for the European Union. Her success in mainstreaming her party will not be a welcome development in Brussels.
Due to the ongoing war in Eastern Europe, Macron's victory celebrations conveyed a much more sombre note, compared to his previous victory. The European hymn, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” played in the background. Macron is a believer that France is in a much more strong position globally if the EU is in a strong position. To him, EU is an asset, not a liability and the Franco-German tandem is a key force to ensure EU's vitality.
Previously Macron has spoked passionately about Europe being a project that stretches from the ports of Lisbon to ports of Vladivostok. However, Moscow's war with Ukraine hinders his ambitions of increasing Europe's reach. He quite clearly views French identity as something that is intertwined with an European identity. Both are in a symbiotic relationship, it is not an either or.
Le Pen has quite different views. During the debate with Macron, at one stage she laid out her views curtly, saying "there is no such thing as (an) European people, France is a sovereign country because France has a people".
Le Pen intended to remain in the EU but at the same time overhaul it, to ensure it didn't turn into something more than an "alliance of European nations". Stress being on "nations".
Macron, after being criticised for his initial aloofness, changed gears. Whilst before the 1st round of polls he hardly campaigned, before the 2nd round of polls he adopted a more risky strategy. He campaigned in areas where Le Pen and Melenchon performed better than him. The results indicate that his strategy might have paid off.
The word 'might' comes in as it isn't clear how much of this was a positive vote for Macron. It is quite possible that the fundamental building block of Macron's victory against Le Pen was the 'dam'. The 'dam' in French elections refers to the development when after the 1st round, left wing candidates are urged to vote for a candidate who doesn't represent their interests, only to ensure that they build a 'dam' to stop candidates like Le Pen winning. Many, including Le Pen herself, view this as a bad development in the democratic process.
Many of the 7.7 million voters who had supported the left-wing candidate Melenchon in the 1st round of polls, voted for Macron in the 2nd rounds quite reluctantly.
Macron himself conceded this fact in his speech. "Many of our compatriots voted for me today not to support my ideas but to form a dam against the 'extreme right'. I am now entrusted with their sense of duty, their attachment to the Republic and their respect for the differences expressed these past weeks," he said.
Macron's victory speech was marked not with the usual rhetoric of politicians but with a sense of almost contrition, a sense of recognition that despite his victory, France is a starkly divided society. The 'president of the rich', (a term that is used to criticise him), bordered on admitting that he has been inattentive towards the hardship that numerous French citizens encounter.
The Presidential election marks a repeat of the previous election. French politics has changed at a structural level. The near total demise of traditional centre left Socialist party and centre right Republican Party, wasn't an aberration in 2017. The decline of parties which dominated post war French politics is an important development, not just for France but Europe.
Macron is an unique figure, who is responsible for much of this change. He did not hesitate to confront what he views as 'Islamist separatism'. He enacted policies that shut down several mosques and islamic associations. At the same time he comfortably criticised Le Pen for her 'narrow mindedness' when she spoke about banning the Hijab.
He laid out that in his view there is difference between the full face covering veil and a hijab, adding that banning Hijab in schools makes sense because that is where 'minds are formed' but banning them on streets if someone wants to wear them as a religious symbol is an overreach. He cannot be accused of appeasing muslims in his country, at the same time he cannot be accused of discriminating against them.
Hijab or no hijab was simply not that much of an important issue in the elections, although it does grab eyeballs in other countries and leads to sensationalist labels like 'far-right' for Le Pen. 41.5 per cent the electorate voted for Le Pen, a significant number of them are young voters, they are anything but 'far-right'. Le Pen's economic policies lean much more towards the left, compared to Macron's policies.
Le Pen's USP in these elections, was't her being 'tough on islamic separatism'. The election had very little to do with ideology and religion. It was much more about the realities of political economy. Le Pen is merely a voice who draws attention to the people who have paid the price of globalisation.
Although analogies in politics and history often have their limitations, seldom do they provide a clearer perspective and often muddy the view. In this case, an analogy with America is somewhat apt. The phenomenon of Le Pen is fuelled by the same concerns which fuelled Trump, it is not hatred of Islam. The concerns in France are the same concerns that worry people in America's rustbelt. Unless Macron succeeds in addressing them, Le Pen or someone else will continue voicing them. Macron's commitment to the single market, makes the possibility of him addressing these concerns at a fundamental level, negligible.
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