Emmanuel Macron’s big win in the French presidential election is being seen as a triumph for a strong and united Europe with the EU nations breathing a sigh of relief. Macron had championed European unity and his election as French president is expected to go a long way in strengthening the EU’s hand in its complex divorce proceedings with Britain. Macron takes charge of a nation that, when Britain leaves the EU in 2019, will become the EU’s only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Unknown to voters before his turbulent 2014- 16 tenure as France’s pro-business economy minister, Macron took a giant gamble by quitting Socialist President Francois Hollande’s government to run as an independent in his first campaign. His startup political movement — optimistically named “En Marche! (Forward)” — caught fire in just one year, harnessing voters’ hunger for new faces and new ideas.
Macron seems to have come out of nowhere – his party En Marche! was formed just a year back – to decimate candidates from established political parties and win France’s presidency. He defeated Marine Le Pen, creating by becoming the youngest president – at 39 years of age – in the 59-year history of the French Fifth Republic. In doing so, Macron has not only become the youngest leader of France since Napoleon, he has also overcome the wave of populism that has been sweeping the Western world by boldly spelling out a message of hope, openness and innovation in place of nostalgic retreat to a hoary past. Congratulatory messages poured in from abroad. US President Donald Trump tweeted congratulations on what he called Macron’s “big win” and said he looked forward to working with the French leader.
India hailed his election, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulating Macron for his “emphatic victory” in the French Presidential poll and saying that he looked forward to working closely with him to further strengthen the bilateral relations. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice president Rahul Gandhi too congratulated Macron on winning the election with an emphatic mandate. Sonia said that India and France share common values of liberty and equality and hoped that the time tested Indo-French relationship will deepen further. Ripping up France’s political map, French voters elected independent centrist Macron as the country’s youngest president, delivering a resounding victory to the unabashedly proEuropean former investment banker and strengthening France’s place as a central pillar of the European Union.
At a victory party outside the Louvre Museum in Paris, Macron supporters roared with delight at the news, waving red, white and blue tricolour flags. The jubilant crowd swelled to thousands as the night wore on. “A new page in our long history is opening tonight. I want it to be one of hope and renewed confidence,” Macron said. Marine Le Pen, his far-right opponent in the presidential runoff, quickly called the 39-year-old Macron to concede defeat after voters rejected her “French-first” nationalism by a large margin. Macron, in a solemn televised victory speech, vowed to heal the social divisions exposed by France’s acrimonious election campaign and bring “hope and renewed confidence” to his country. Le Pen’s performance dashed her hopes that the populist wave which swept Donald Trump into the White House and led Britain to vote to leave the EU would also carry her to France’s presidential Elysee Palace.
Macron has strongly advocated for a reformed EU and pitched for a national renewal that would enable France to take advantage of a globalised world. In that sense, Macron offers the perfect mix of liberal, internationalist values and the need for change. He has promised to unleash entrepreneurial spirits, re-orient the French welfare regime, and prepare people for jobs of the future. Macron’s victory marked the third time in six months — following elections in Austria and the Netherlands – that European voters shot down farright populists who wanted to restore borders across Europe. Until now, modern France had been governed either by the Socialists or the conservatives. Both Macron and Le Pen upended that right-left tradition. “France has sent an incredible message to itself, to Europe and the world,” said Macron ally Francois Bayrou, tipped among his possible choices for prime minister.
Macron and Le Pen’s polar-opposite visions presented France’s 47 million registered voters with the starkest possible choice. Le Pen’s closed borders faced off against Macron’s open ones; his commitment to free trade ran against her proposals to protect the French from global economic competition and immigration. Her desire to free France from the EU and the shared euro currency contrasted with his argument that both are essential for the future of Europe’s third-largest economy. As well as capitalising on voter rejection of the left-right monopoly on power, Macron also got lucky.
One of his most dangerous opponents, conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, was hobbled by allegations that his family benefited from cushy taxpayer-funded jobs for years. On the left, the Socialist Party imploded, its candidate abandoned by voters who wanted to punish Hollande, France’s most unpopular president since World War II. Hollande himself decided not to run again. Macron has promised a France that would stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin but that also would seek to work with Putin on fighting the Islamic State group, whose extremists have claimed or inspired multiple attacks in France since 2015.
It is to be seen as to how Macron meets the aspirations of France’s 67 million people who are deeply divided, riven by anxieties about terrorism and chronic unemployment, worried about the cultural and economic impact of immigration and fearful of France’s ability to compete against giants like China and Google. While it is both a challenge and an opportunity for him, Macron’s victory has a lesson for all liberal democracies – a pogressive agenda can succeed only when it seeks to be truly inclusive by addressing those who feel left behind.