Americans should welcome the election of Emmanuel Macron to the presidency of France, not only because he succeeded in arresting the crushing wave of populism in France but for the astonishing feat that he performed in passing himself off to the French electorate as the alternative to the strongly entrenched political system.
This is indeed the great irony in Macron’s swift ascent to power. When he left his post of economy minister in the Valls government in August 2016, he looked like an upstart with vain ambitions. He had established a new movement – En Marche! – defying the advice coming from the Socialist Party to bide his time and to avoid an inter-party battle. By slamming the door in the face of his party, Macron chose the role of the challenger of the system, the very establishment that had created him, first as a banker and then as a key government leader.
As a start, he is a product of ENA, the traditional National School of Administration, the symbol of classism in the French political system. His curriculum includes the entire range of posts that mark the rise of a party politician, starting with finance inspector all the way to economy minister and chief mover of the economic reforms undertaken by the Socialist president.
In a climate of political revolt and social upheaval, Macron goes to a poor banlieu in Paris, destined to become the epicenter of a rebellion against the local police, and announces his intention of “uniting the French, neither the right nor the left.” Then, he manages to avoid the internecine fights within the Socialist Party and makes no mistakes, except for the time when he goes to Algeria and calls “colonization a crime against humanity,” a statement that unleashes a storm of criticism. Macron quickly apologizes and carries on his unusual electoral campaign based, of all things, on love: “I love you ferociously,” he keeps telling the French.
His message is simple: “I am ready,” and the French believe him, no matter what his enemies call him, from Trojan horse of strong economic stakeholders to servant of banks and lobbies.
This is the man who, from nowhere, has climbed to the top of the French political scene at a time of unprecedented political and economic crisis when even the identity of France seemed to be seriously compromised. He has shut out the traditional parties, the republicans and the socialists, leading a new and untested political movement that does not have the financing and the organization that are required for the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
The lack of a true political structure will define his limits but the French will judge him first and foremost for his ability to reform the very system that created him. The threats of racism and xenophobia that convulse the French scene have been temporarily overcome by the desperate need felt by French citizens, including many of Islamic faith, to accept a young man’s promise to change the system. Macron is also exceptional because of his age, which makes him the youngest head of government in the history of France.
Much already has been said about the colossal sigh of relief of the European Union leaders and of those countries who look at the union for higher reasons than the cherry picking that is all too common among the newer and poorer member countries. The defeat of the populist anti-Europe candidate Marine Le Pen has given back to France the legitimization that it deserves as a founding member of the European Community and a linchpin of stability in continental Europe. Had Le Pen won, the entire unitarian project of Europe would have suffered a collapse as a result of the nationalistic disintegration.
Too many people, mostly in the East but also in the West (U.S. included) were rooting for the cataclysm personified by the candidate of the National Front. Fortunately, at the end of the day, French history and values prevailed. The election of Emmanuel Macron marks an implosion but not to the advantage of the populists of the right and left varieties.
The European Union has survived a dramatic test. Now it must implement the urgent reforms to call into being a new union at different speeds that are sorely needed to face the needs of defense and security, the massive onslaught of illegal immigration, the completion of the common currency project and the response to the economic demands of those Europeans who have seen their purchasing power fade away with the dreams of a truly united Europe. Macron brings to the presidency of France the hope that Europe will go ahead, through the renewal not only of European institutions without British obstructionism but also of the French-German alliance.
Next are the German elections that are expected to push Europe farther toward political stability and economic progress.