International Current Affairs

2017 French presidential election: Centrist Emmanuel Macron stops the far right upsurge

Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron has won the French election with 66% of the vote, in a resounding victory over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Macron, France’s youngest head of state since Napoleon and a former Rothschild banker, only set up his political movement ‘En Marche!’ 13 months ago. Addressing the nation after his win, Macron pledged to “defend Europe” and “rebuild ties” between Europe and its citizens. Le Pen was in favor of France leaving the Eurozone and the euro, so the win for Macron and his pro-market and pro-Europe policies is being seen as a kind of check against the upsurge of over zealot nationalists and protectionist far right wing in Europe and elsewhere.

The 2017 French presidential election was held on 23 April and 7 May 2017. As no candidate won a majority in the first round on 23 April, a run-off was held between the top two candidates, Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! and Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN), which Macron won by a decisive margin on 7 May. The presidential election would be followed by legislative elections to elect members of the National Assembly on 11 and 18 June.

Incumbent president François Hollande of the Socialist Party (PS) was eligible to run for a second term, but declared on 1 December 2016 that he would not seek reelection in light of low approval ratings, making him the first incumbent president of the Fifth Republic not to seek re-election. François Fillon of the Republicans (LR), after winning the party’s first open primary, and Marine Le Pen of the National Front led first-round opinion polls in November 2016 and mid-January 2017. Polls tightened considerably by late January, and after the publication of revelations that Fillon employed family members in possibly fictitious jobs, in what came to be colloquially known as “Penelopegate”, Macron overtook Fillon to place consistently second in first-round polling. At the same time, Benoît Hamon won the Socialist primary, entering fourth place in the polls. After strong debate performances, Jean-Luc Mélenchon of la France insoumise rose significantly in polls in late March, overtaking Hamon to place just below Fillon.

The first round was held under a state of emergency that was declared following the November 2015 Paris attacks. Following the result of the first round, Macron and Le Pen continued to the 7 May runoff. It was the first time since 2002 that a National Front candidate continued to the second round and the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic that the runoff did not include a nominee of the traditional left or right parties; their combined share of the vote from eligible voters, at approximately 26%, was also a historic low.

Estimations of the result of the second round on 7 May indicated that Macron had been elected by a decisive margin, and Le Pen immediately conceded defeat. After the Interior Ministry published preliminary results, the official result of the second round was proclaimed by the Constitutional Council on 10 May. Macron took office on 14 May and named Édouard Philippe as Prime Minister on 15 May; the government will be assembled on 17 May, with the legislative elections to follow on 11 and 18 June.

The fact that markets held steady following Macron’s election reflects their favorable view of his globalist and centrist policies. His policies are pro-business, aiming to reduce bureaucracy and cut costs in order to encourage companies to hire. He plans to reduce payroll taxes and tackle France’s pension system, without raising the retirement age or reducing pensions. Within Europe, in terms of what Macron’s election means for the UK, he is resolutely pro-Europe, and has stated that he will “defend the integrity” of the single market as Britain negotiates its departure from the EU. Macron has made no secret of the fact that he thinks Brexit is the wrong decision, and the UK shouldn’t be given any special treatment. He has proposed a Canadian-style trade agreement, which could dramatically restrict the UK’s market access. The election of the middle ground candidate prompted the euro to jump to a six-month dollar high $1.1024 before it slipped back to $1.098. It was also up against sterling and other major currencies. Given Macron’s victory, the consensus view is that there is now a lower level of market risk to contend with than there might have been had Le Pen won the election. Even though markets have responded positively so far, it’s important to remember that it’s impossible for anyone to accurately predict which way the FTSE 100 index, or in fact any other stock market index, or the euro will move next. With Macron in the hot seat, it means that not only France remains open for business and keen to expand global trade, but also the notion of European Union (EU) as a common market lives on. However, the biggest issue for Macron now is whether he will be able to gain a majority in the parliamentary election in June so that he can implement his policies. It is only once these elections are held that we will know exactly how the new president will govern. If the En Marche! Party doesn’t achieve a parliamentary majority, Macron may seek to form a centrist, market-friendly coalition. The risk is that is that if the parliament is controlled by a party other than the president’s own party, the president may be overshadowed by a prime minister who is instead backed by the French parliament.

Marine Le Pen’s National Front party is betting on June legislative elections to become the leading opposition force to French President Emmanuel Macron, who defeated her in a landslide victory. But the party is dropping for now its campaign to leave the euro currency and sticking to the basics, like working against “massive immigration.”

National Front Party secretary general Nicolas Bay said on May 22 the National Front would present candidates in each of France’s 577 districts, hoping to show it is the “real opposition” to Macron, a centrist whose newly named prime minister, Edouard Philippe, comes from the ranks of the mainstream right. The populist Le Pen, who has not been seen since her May 7 defeat to Macron, is to announce by week’s end whether she’ll run for a parliamentary seat. She said Macron’s choice of prime minister shows a “holy alliance” between left and right and continues to try to keep alive a system she wants to break. The parliamentary candidates of her party reflect the diversity of France, Bay said at a news conference, with half of them women, an average age of 45.7, and more than one-third drawn from the ranks of artisans, farmers, shopkeepers or heads of companies.

Macron unveiled his list of parliamentary candidates last week, many taking a first leap into politics, part of his bid to put people at the center of political life. By contrast, nearly 70 percent of National Front candidates have held some kind of elected office and, Bay said, and have the proven capacity to exercise a parliamentary mandate. That wasn’t always the case for the anti-immigration party which has had trouble drawing competent candidates before beginning to grow a grassroots power base. Despite her crushing defeat to Macron, Le Pen is counting on her record high voter count, more than 10.6 million to propel her party into parliament, as well as bidding to take in “electoral orphans” unsatisfied by Macron and feeling betrayed by the mainstream right.

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