The cheer was always going to be qualified. The bubbles would be less effervescent, more a case of relieved sighing rather than frothy exultation. After another electoral hack, and another round of threats, the French election was being played out in an era that may, in time, be given the Trump name.
The pollsters did rest a bit easier after the election result, with Emmanuel Macron outdoing his contender Marine Le Pen by fifteen percent. Their soothsayers have been failing of late, and this result provided some form of revival. But what it did show, as it did in the United Kingdom, is that the battle between the forces of nationalist nostalgia and autonomy, and the market model masquerading as prosperity and democracy, will continue to rage.
In any other set of circumstances, it would have been seen as thumping, clear, and unquestionable: a 66 percent approval for Macron, with Parisians going the whole hog with 90 per cent. But such are the times that the 34 percent, left unattended to the north and south of the country, may well become the future governing power, a disease that takes hold, and eventually conquering the host.
While it was second highest score in the second round of a presidential vote since 1965, Macron’s margin of victory becomes less significant when compared with that of Jacques Chirac’s 82.21 percent in 2002 over Marine Le Pen’s father. An unescapable fact is that 11 million votes were cast in favour of Le Pen.
Rather than showing France revived and optimistic, the victory of Macron poses an enormous headache which is being shielded by aspirins from various quarters. Instead of considering the model of reform so desperately needed in institutional Europe, the excuse to bury, rather than examine the current revolt, is all too real.
As if showing awareness of this, figures such as outgoing president François Hollande have attempted to bring the brush of freshness to the En Marche! campaign, despite Macron’s ministerial tutelage under him. The message here is a distorting one: centrism, an approach embracing neither left nor right, but one overwhelmingly in favour of market and banking ideals. “It’s true that he followed me these last few years. But afterwards, he freed himself, he wanted to propose his [own] project to the French people.”
Nor does the enormous margin favouring Macron suggest that anti-establishment resentment, nourished by dislike for the European Union, has somehow vanished. Taken together as a bloc vote, the majority voted, in the first presidential round, against establishment, EU smugness. (Witness, to that end, the margin favouring Jean-Luc Mélenchon.) What followed after was a tactical play.
With some swiftness, Macron also became the alibi for other leaders, transmogrifying into rationales and justifications that seek to avoid, rather than confront, the European dilemma. He had won, he had found the truth. The European establishment were delighted that something sensible had transpired, that France could again lead the project of reason in Europe.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the quickest out of the traps on that score. “He carries the hopes of millions of French people, and of many people in Germany and the whole of Europe. He ran a courageous pro-European campaign, stands for openness to the world and is committed decisively to a social market economy.”
For the remainder group in the United Kingdom, this would have been a spur along to show that Britain’s Gallic cousins were doing the wise thing, and may well surprise in the British election. But Prime Minister Theresa May, in full campaign mode, took Macron’s victory as a sign that she needed the numbers to stand up to him regarding Britain’s exit. (She has already indicated future trouble, given her reluctance to renegotiate the Le Touquet border agreement.)
From the stump, she claimed that “every vote for me and my team will strengthen my hand in those Brexit negotiations.” In contrast, her Labour alternative, Jeremy Corbyn, was weak, lacking the bull dog spirit to face up to “the collective might of the European Commission and 27 other EU countries”.
For the Brexiteers, the vote suggested something quite different. The Leave.EU group, created by Nigel Farage last year, decided that some good old fashioned venom should be thrown in. The French, went one tweet, had “rolled over” as they had in 1940, though this time, they saved Germany “the bullets and the fuel.” Farage, not wanting to be left out of the polemics, also claimed that Macron would be nothing more than Juncker’s puppet.
The CEO of the libertarian group the Freedom Association even got personal with the President elect, having a dig at Macron’s liking for the older woman. “Macron evidently likes older women, so he’ll make an excellent lapdog for Angela Merkel.”
For such reasons, mixed with sense and bile, Le Pen will not be disheartened. Should she stay in those trenches of resentment against the forces of globalisation and European centralisation, the same agents of change Macron deems unstoppable, and even noble, she may well storm in after five years.
Deep in the character of French history is the genius of cosmopolitan enlightenment, and parochial fanaticism; collaboration with power, and resistance to it. On the landscape is now plotted the various forces that will shape the Republic for the next few years. But Macron, every bit an establishment figure, despite claims to the contrary, promises reforms that are, in effect, non-reforms, a point that will feed rather than destroy the base Le Pen will work from.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]