Macron’s victory is no reason for optimism

By Sebastian Sanchez-Schilling

On Sunday France elected Emmanuel Macron as their president. Macron, a former government minister and investment banker, successfully posed as an insurgent against the political class. He easily saw off the threat from Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader of the Front Nationale.

The French presidential elections began against the backdrop of the Francois Hollande’s implosion. Under his term, France has been wracked by several terrorist attacks. He responded to them by playing the strongman – ordering airstrikes in Syria and trying to pass reforms which would increase his emergency powers. Another important facet of his unpopularity were the labour law reforms he tried passing. These caused significant protests from the labour movement. The end result of his manoeuvring was the alienation of everyone – both left and right. With approval ratings at a low of 4%, Hollande surprised by no-one by not choosing to stand for re-election.

With both Hollande and his party, the Parti Socialiste, significantly unpopular, the primary began in the grips of the right. Preliminary polls estimated a two-horse race with the right-wing former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, behind Marine Le Pen. The end result was a four-way race with Macron in the lead and less than two points difference between the three runners up – Marine Le Pen, François Fillon of Les Républicains and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise.

Before the presidential campaign, Emmanuel Macron’s achievements could be listed in the following order of descending importance: marrying his secondary-school teacher, being an investment banker, and in 2014 becoming the Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs under the Second Valls Government. In 2016, he resigned from his position in government to begin his presidential bid under the banner of his new political movement En Marche! – a centrist, socially liberal movement. His policies appeared to be watered-down versions of Fillon’s and did not strike a contrast with Hollande’s disastrous government. Fillon promised to sack 500,000 government employees, cut spending by €100bn and rewrite the country’s labour code. Macron would sack over 100,000 government employees, cut spending by €60bn and continue trying to force through the unpopular labour reforms which erupted into riots last year. The main difference between him and Fillon, barring the severity of their neoliberalism, is the thin veneer of being socially liberal. He’s acquired this reputation through his not-being-Le-Pen, but it hardly manifests itself beyond the rhetoric of his campaign. He promises to create a 5,000-strong EU border patrol force, force the adoption of French on immigrants and give ‘comprehensive training France’s secular values’ to religious leaders in the country. One credit, however, is his rightful denunciation of France’s colonialism as a “crime against humanity.”

As was expected, Macron easily beat Le Pen. His campaign, conscious to not be complacent, ran campaign ads featuring American pundits speaking of how easily Clinton would win. The result was Macron with 66.1% of the vote and Le Pen with 33.9%. The world felt relieved as he saw off the far-right threat, putting an end to the trend which began with Brexit. But should we feel relieved? Of course. Fascists losing is one thing which is unadulteratedly good, but it should also be the least thing we expect. We should remember that there will be another election 5 years. It is doubtful whether Macron could win again. The largest component of his vote came from opposition towards Le Pen, 43%, and the second largest component of his vote was a desire for change – 33%. This is disquieting, to say the least. The turnout was the lowest in 36 years and the number of spoiled ballots was the highest ever. Le Pen, although losing badly, almost doubled on the FNs previous result in the second round of French elections.

Although Macron has created the image of renewal, there isn’t much markedly different from the vastly unpopular Hollande administration. Macron is devoid of content and vision. In 2008 Obama promised hope; in 2017 Macron promises austerity. Five years of Hollande saw the rise of the Front Nationale and their best-ever presidential election result. What will five years of Macron bring?

Photograph: Laurie Shaull via Flickr. 

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