Macron Won't Heal France


Macron Won't Heal France

May 9th, 2017 1 min read
Helle C. Dale

Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy

Her current work focuses on the U.S. government’s institutions and programs for strategic outreach to the public of foreign countries.
It is highly unlikely Macron will be able to heal the mess in which France finds itself today. Dominique Jacovides / Sebastien/Bestimage / Polaris/New

Reading the news accounts of Sunday's French presidential election, one might think President Donald Trump was in the running. Predictably rushing to judgment, commentators and journalists celebrated the win of French socialist Emmanuel Macron as though he had slain the forces of Trumpism. 

But the resemblance between the French and U.S. presidential elections is superficial. Macron is no Hillary Clinton, and the defeated nationalist Marine Le Pen is certainly no Donald Trump.

Where Clinton carried decades of political and personal baggage, Macron was a fresh face. (Literally – he's only 39.) By contrast, in France, Le Pen was the one that carried the decades of baggage from her far-right father Jean-Marie Le Pen and his party, the National Front. As many as 43 percent of the voters who went for Macron stated that they voted primarily against the message of Marine Le Pen. 

It is important to understand that Macron is not exactly the centrist, pro-business type that most liberal media have described. He served as finance minister in the government of outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande, a highly unpopular and unsuccessful administration. Macron wisely resigned from the government last year and founded his own party, En Marche. This has given him credentials as an outsider. As of now, his young party does not hold a single seat in France's national assembly.

Macron's victory is undeniably stunning in its magnitude, 66 percent to 34 percent. In its wake, Europhiles are drawing a deep sigh of relief. The European Union is safe for now from the exit of France, one of its founding members. Macron campaigned on keeping France in the European Union, though he also talked somewhat vaguely about reforming it. Macron is scathingly anti-Brexit, and he ran on an internationalist and pro-immigration platform. This is, in many ways, reassuringly familiar political territory to most Frenchmen.

At the same time, Macron's political platform strongly resembles the policies that have brought France to its current impasse. The France he inherits has a 35-hour work week, guaranteed five weeks of paid vacation and massive problems with Islamist terrorism and immigration from North Africa. Unemployment stands at 10 percent, with youth unemployment at 20 percent.

The very policies that Macron is likely to pursue are the same that have given rise to the backlash from French nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiments. Because of that deep discontent, his opponent got 35 percent of the vote, a strong showing for the European far right. 

It is highly unlikely Macron will be able to heal the mess in which France finds itself today.

This piece originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report