May 9, 2017

The Significance of Macron’s Election Victory


Only 39 years old, Emmanuel Macron is the youngest person ever elected president of the French Republic. He won the final round of the presidential elections by a landslide against the far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen, but he did not get the support of the majority of registered French voters. An unprecedented number of voters—over a third of the total—either abstained (25.4%) or virtually boycotted the elections by casting blank or otherwise invalid ballots (11.5%). Therefore, only 63% of French voters actually voted for one or the other candidate.

Many abstentionists and a large majority of blank voters are suspected to be the supporters of the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came in fourth and was demonstratively the most disappointed loser of the first round of elections. Equally, many of the more right-wing supporters of former prime minister François Fillon’s Republicans party either “defected” (that is, voted for Le Pen) or boycotted the final round. Therefore, President-elect Macron, who will be inaugurated on 14 May, has a difficult task ahead of him to reunite a polarized French society in which far-right and far-left voters—and even moreso, their leaders—, are bad losers who may find it hard to accept reconciliation.

Macron’s great success is a tremendous victory and opportunity for Europe, but one should not omit the fact that he clearly sees the necessity of reforming and strengthening the Union, particularly by reforming the eurozone and protecting the borders of the Schengen area. Together with his German counterpart—who after the Bundestag elections in September could be either Angela Merkel or Martin Schulz—Macron will have to begin the process of renewing an EU of 27 members in parallel with the difficult Brexit negotiations. This process must address the uncertainties and distress caused by financial defaults, massive immigration, terrorism, and so on; if not, Le Pen might have a far better chance five years from now, and anti-EU sentiments will increase throughout Europe.

France’s new Président certainly wishes to have a strong political basis – i.e. an absolute majority in the Assemblée Nationale – in order to implement his ideas and promises. The two-round parliamentary elections on 11 and 18 June may well prove to be an earthquake in the French political landscape, and push Macron’s En Marche! movement to the very top of a renewed party system. There is no doubt that the two big losers – the socialists and the republicans together with their traditional allies – will not be able to secure more than a fraction of their present seats (together, they currently hold over 90%) in the 577-member lower house. The main questions now are whether En Marche! will be able to secure a majority (and if so, how much), as well as whether Le Pen’s Front National will significantly exceed the estimated total ted 30 to 50 seats. The most likely candidates for the Prime Minister’s office, in the event that Macron’s movement wins its majority, are considered to be Christine Lagarde –the IMF boss and former minister of economics under President Nicolas Sarkozy- and François Bayrou, the experienced centrist leader whose endorsement in February 2017 gave Macron a huge boost in his skyrocketing political ascent toward the presidency.

Finally, one of the biggest losers of these elections is Russia. President Putin met with Marine Le Pen in Moscow in March 2017, and never made a secret of his favourite candidate. In fact, Russia’s propaganda machine and “cyber specialists” such as the espionage group Fancy Bear, did everything possible to discredit Macron, especially the by now traditional cyber attacks to steal and then selectively and distortively leak information. The Kremlin is now undoubtedly disappointed. In stark contrast to the tone of Western congratulations, including from US president Donald Trump, Putin rather coldly and pathetically called on Macron in his congratulatory to work to “overcome mistrust and unite efforts to ensure international stability and security”. Putin probably thinks, as usual, that he himself does not need to do anything to overcome mistrust, even considering that he took the wrong side and condoned Russia’s anti-Macron attacks.

The Russian authorities have to draw some lessons learned and answer some questions. Is it really useful or wise to take sides in Western elections, especially when the outcome –as in the case of Macron’s victory- is quite predictably unfavourable to Moscow? If it decides to interfere in the upcoming German elections, all Russia will do is continue to prove to the Western world that it has strong political preferences and cyber attack capabilities. For now, at least, an assessment of the real influence of Russia’s meddling in Western elections reveals that it seems to be overstated; ultimately, the Kremlin’s efforts do not tend to produce more friends and allies—not even in President Trump.