The Irish Times view: An emphatic ‘Non’ to Le Pen
France’s election of Macron will be celebrated across Europe
The pollsters were right. Many voters were rattled by the failure of surveys to predict both Brexit and Donald Trump’s election, and few of France’s nervous pundits were putting their faith in polls, despite predictions that Emmanuel Macron would comfortably beat the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in yesterday’s second round of the French presidential election. He did – by a stunning 30-point 65 to 35 margin.
The emphatic victory will be celebrated all over Europe. The real fear of a polarising Le Pen victory, fed by the successes of surging right-wing populist campaigns, has cast a shadow over politics across the EU for the last few months. Her defeat, following the recent setback to Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, may be seen as a high-water mark for this brand of Eurosceptical, anti-globalisation and Islamophobe politics – of what could be called “anti-politics”. In Germany, also due elections this year, their counterpart, Alternative for Germany, appears to be in an existential crisis.
The scale of the Macron victory, while welcome, should not encourage complacency. The easy temptation to see Brexit and Trump as mere aberrations and to imagine the “problem” is solved must be resisted. The EU’s political leaders and Europe’s mainstream parties, most particularly the severely depleted social democratic parties, in Ireland included, have much soul-searching to do to begin to reconnect to a substantial alienated working class base. The Le Pen phenomenon will not disappear.
Macron (39), France’s youngest leader since Napoleon, is a former banker who was, for a time, part of the Socialist cabinet of President Francois Hollande and had never been previously elected to public office. He describes his “En Marche” movement as progressive and of both the left and right. He has a strong, Blairite pro-business inclination, promising major labour market reform, and favours free trade and the EU.
But the election, and the strong winning margin, was less a victory for Macron than a defeat for Le Pen, and he will find governing difficult. En Marche has no seats in a National Assembly still very much dominated by “old” politics. Socialists and Gaullists of Les Republicains hold 484 of the assembly’s 577 seats. Macron is pinning his hopes on that changing dramatically in parliamentary elections next month. But even if his party manages to equal his personal first-round vote of 24 per cent, he will be far short of the numbers needed to nominate a prime minister.
France appears to be heading for a period of “cohabitation” when the president has to rely on a prime minister from an opposing party – reaching a deal with either the depleted and split Socialists or the Republicains will not be easy. Political gridlock may be the order of the day.