Macron’s victory is not an immediate cure for all of France’s ills

Emmanuel Macron’s strategy gave a nice result. The French president always wanted a rematch with far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whom he defeated in 2017. He reckoned with her weaknesses and the instincts of French voters to close ranks against the far right – the so-called Republican front – to win once again . It worked despite the extraordinary popular anger and insults directed at him after five turbulent years in power.

A victory for Le Pen – who had promised radical changes to France’s economy, society and foreign policy – would have been a leap into the dark. To the great relief of EU partners and a large part of the business community, the French did not want to take it, but chose instead a kind of continuity.

Macron’s victory was historic – the first president to win re-election in two decades and the first to win another term while in power (François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac were in “cohabitation” with the opposition) since the direct vote was introduced. in 1962.

It was also crucial. Macron won by a larger margin – expected to be around 58 percent to 42 – than many of his allies had feared on the eve of the first-round vote two weeks ago. It could have been different where Le Pen ran a smart campaign focusing on wallet issues during a cost-of-living crisis.

In the last fourteen days, however, Macron has managed to draw attention to the inconsistency of Le Pen’s program, the extreme nature of some of her proposals, such as a complete ban on Muslim headscarves in public places and her “dependence” on Russian financial support. He also made some timely adjustments to his platform to appeal to left-wing voters: a potentially slower increase in the retirement age from 62 to 65 and, more markedly, embracing the concept of state planning to push down carbon emissions.

But the level of failure – at 28 per cent, the highest since 1969 – together with the 60 per cent of the votes won in the first round of elections by “anti-system parties”, hardly gives a resounding support for macronism.

The president has promised a new, more collective approach to governance in his second term. In a conciliatory victory speech, he acknowledged a duty to critics who had nevertheless voted for him to keep the far right out. He also promised to respond to the concerns of abstaining members and the about 13 million. voters backing Le Pen. He promised to lead a “friendly and respectful” presidency.

We have heard him make such promises before, after 2018-19 “yellow vests”Protests. Can he really rein in his controlling instincts in what is already a hypercentralized control system? One of his first tasks as re-elected president will be to personally approve each candidate running for his party La Republique En Marche in the June parliamentary elections. And many wonder if he will really be able to give the French the kind of “protection” against global competition that many of his critics seem to want?

Macron’s second period may prove to be even more stormy than his first. His party may lose its parliamentary majority. Although the traditional center-left and center-right parties are disintegrating, the far left and far right will hope to gain access to a national vibe to cut Macron’s wings.

Several protests are also in view of reforms or the rising cost of living. Macron is not facing a single opposition movement, but the victims could come together as they did before in yellow vests protests. The days of the liberal Macron are definitely over.

His victory has also come at a price, stretching the legitimacy of the Fifth Republic of France to the extreme when the only alternatives to the pro-European centristism of the established power are the extreme left and the extreme right. His resignation in five years could still bring the usual “change” that many French people seem to want. Meanwhile, France’s political system is in dire need of some balm.

ben.hall@ft.com

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