Emmanuel Macron is the new President of France, after winning 66% of the vote in yesterday’s election. This is Macron’s victory as much as it is Le Pen’s defeat, voters rejecting her nationalist-populist platform. Macron managed to win in almost every regional district, marking a landslide victory that hasn’t been seen in France since Jacques Chirac defeated Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2002.
Back then, Chirac got 82% of the vote, a stronger score than Macron’s 66%, however, one can say that both the European and American political climate were nowehere near as polarized in 2002 as they are today. Antj-establishment sentiment started growing in a pronounced manner with the late 2000s economic crisis.
Macron came on top of Le Pen in the first round, a worrying sign for the Front National leader, who was hoping for a stronger performance in an electoral round that allows people to “vote with their heart” first. Macron won 24% to 21% in the first round, and with almost every other political party supporting him in round two, it is of no surprise that he eventually emerged victorious in a landslide in Round Two.
Credits: By Mélencron – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58428821
This is a victory for the European Union
After Brexit and Trump, the European Union badly needed wins in this 2017. It got hope with the Dutch defeat of nationalist Geert Wilders, and the EU can breathe another sigh of relief after the French election, with pro-EU Macron set to take the reins. If the Netherlands are in a state of intense political negotiation to build a coalition excluding Wilders’ PVV, Macron’s win is categorical, reinforcing trust in the EU. Reform has won over dismantlement.
This doesn’t mean the EU must avoid reform, or that future battles will be easier
For now, this year will probably mark a gentle retreat of activist populist nationalist parties. UKIP is poised to suffer heavy losses in the next UK election, a big part of its electorate being absorbed by the more moderate Conservative Party. In Germany, the anti-EU AfD has dropped points in recent polls, and doesn’t seem poised to make a strong impression in this year’s elections.
However, the EU needs to capitalize on the fact that there are no more radical political outcomes on the continent. With Macron, Rutte, Merkel or Schulz, the EU has a better chance to move forward than with Le Pen, Wilders or Farage. This is now the time for systemic reform within the EU with particular focus on growth policies, common defense and foreign policy strategies and a need to talk more openly about the trust issues the EU has been experiencing recently.
The EU will need to become more transparent, more synchronized, less bureaucratic and more efficient, if it doesn’t want to forever be a target of lazy populist arguments that sell well with a poorly informed public. Ironically, the upcoming Brexit negotiations could very well turn into a great chance for the EU to see just how united its members states are on issues dear to the European project.
What happened in France is harder to envision in the UK or USA
Say what you want about French democracy, but if there is one thing that paved the way for Macron that would be almost impossible in Britain or America, it’s the fact that France enables multiple parties to run and doesn’t shun on new political movements. Macron won through his own political movement, En Marche!, a centrist movement that managed to find a crack in the establishment armor of the Republicans and Socialists. In the UK and US, the “anti-establishment” candidate is often just another Republican, Democrat, Tory or Laborite with a few “maverick” credentials. In France, Macron’s ability to claim genuine independence from traditional parties and build a centrist platform that would appeal to moderate French citizens eased his path considerably.
This is also a win for French pollsters
There has been quite an amount of discussion over French polling of the election, many people were worried that another “historic miscalculation” would take place, in a manner similar to that of the last British general election, which ended with a strong Tory win despite pollster projections of a horserace. This was not the case last night. Pollsters predicted a comfortable Macron win (as much as the political climate allows “comfortable” to be defined as 60% plus) and that’s exactly what he did, garnering 66% of the vote. This election, unlike Brexit or the US Presidential election, was not very close, thus, the losing side cannot make a claim that it could’ve gone either way under better circumstances.
Credit: Emmanuel Macron – https://www.en-marche.fr/emmanuel-macron/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48039917
The paradox of populism in Europe
The numbers of populist parties keeps on growing with every election, yet success seemed a lot closer in 2016 compared to this year. It would appear that far-right populists have lost the element of surprise, they have lost whatever “shine” they had when they more or less brusquely made their statements into mainstream political debates.
Now that more and more Europeans know what to expect of populist parties, they have changed their strategies accordingly. Populist nationalists manage to get supporters more easily, yet they also have to play the game of politics under more conventional rules, and this hurts them.
What’s next for Europe? A British election that UKIP is probably not very eager for, a German election which might actually bring about a swing to the left, and slowly we’re moving toward the American midterms, where Democrats are poised to make gains. Time will tell, but it does seem that the West’s “populist moment” is fading.