Emmanuel Macron’s success in France on Sunday was not the result of a consensual ‘republican front’ behind which voters could rally against Marine Le Pen in round two. In 2002, when her father reached the second round, a wave of anguish was followed by stoical nose-holding, as the many opponents of Jacques Chirac’s presidency trudged to the polls and voted him into office: anything but Jean-Marie Le Pen. Chirac took 82 per cent of the vote on a turnout of 80 per cent; 5 per cent spoiled their ballots or left them blank. Le Pen Sr knew a republican front when he saw one. He snarled at its huge following and told them to vote with saucepans on their heads: that way they’d look like the fools that they were.
Macron’s margin is not as comfortable as Chirac’s, but 66.1 per cent to Marine Le Pen’s 33.9 is good on the face of it. And he added 12 million votes (about 42 per cent of votes cast in the second round) to his first-round tally. But the level of abstention was 25.4 per cent – the highest for a second round in nearly half a century – and 11.5 per cent of voters spoiled their ballots or left them blank. In other words, Macron is in on roughly 44 per cent of the eligible vote, better than the margin for Brexit last June, but scarcely a walkover.
The incoming president is a dedicated European. He hopes to sell the idea of reform to an electorate that is ambivalent on Europe or frankly Eurosceptic. He’s proposing a new Eurozone parliament with representatives from the 19 states that use the single currency, empowered to debate a combined budget and put it to the vote. A Eurozone minister of economy and finance would execute the wishes of the parliament. In other words, southern states like Portugal and Greece would be allowed to fight it out with highly capitalised northern states, which have fared better in the currency union. The recent accession states to the east, and France – whose voters clearly see their country as a north-south hybrid – would throw their weight one way or the other.
Macron thinks he can appease the French protectionist urge by persuading Brussels to regulate third-party investment, mostly from Asia, in key European sectors. There is also a suggestion for citizen’s agreements (‘conventions’) in member-states on policies formulated in Brussels.
None of this, or other elements in his programme, will settle the minds of his opponents. The first round of these elections was fought over the fundamental nature of ‘the system’, which, as Perry Anderson explained recently in Le Monde diplomatique, is no longer seen by disillusioned citizens in Europe as ‘capitalism’ in the broadest sense, but as a particular ‘variant’ characterised by ‘deregulated financial flows, privatised services and escalating social inequality’. Macron intends, at most, to tweak the variant.
For the far right, his realism makes him a treacherous cosmopolitan; for the left he is business-as-usual, with more than a whiff of the party of François Hollande. It’s striking how many of Macron’s close entourage have been PS sympathisers, members, wonks or wealthy donors, but hardly a surprise that Manuel Valls, Hollande’s former prime minister, wishes to stand for Macron’s party – renamed La République en marche and equipped with a new interim president – as the hunt begins for candidates to run in parliamentary elections next month (a.k.a. ‘round three’).
Two days before Sunday’s vote, Macron was invited to the editorial offices of Mediapart for a long but respectful grilling. The comments section was flooded by a torrent of bile, mostly from gauchiste trolls. It was as though Mediapart had sullied its credentials by having the ‘bankster’ candidate in the building. Yet the threat to the next administration will not be ostracism and loathing from the left or right: Macron’s promises look shaky and his policies like new panels on an old car. He will have more to fear from his supporters than his enemies.