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Young President with many old challenges
It’s difficult to label Emmanuel Marcon as a Rightist or a Leftist. He himself would not wish to be categorised as it will hobble his functioning. India, meanwhile, has every reason to look forward to enhanced bilateral ties
France has decided. By default, some will say. After winning the most unexpected presidential elections, Emmanuel Macron is the new President of the French Republic. The 39-year-old former investment banker defeated Marine Le Pen of the National Front with more than 66 per cent of valid votes.
It is an extraordinary rise for Macron, France’s youngest-ever leader since Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte who was elected President in December 1848, at the age of 40. The leader of the En Marche! (‘On the Move!’) movement will also be the youngest among the G-20 leaders, before Justin Trudeau, who turned 45. By ‘default’, because the voters had not really a choice.
During the second round of the presidential election, more than 4.2 million electors (nearly 10 per cent of the 47.6 millions voters) who went to the booths, deposited a ‘white’ (blank) or ‘nul’ (invalid) ballot. A record!
On Sunday, just before 11 pm, Macron met his supporters near the glass pyramid of the world-famous courtyard of Le Louvre Palace in Paris. “Tonight, France won”, he solemnly declared. He told the jubilant crowd: “Merci mes amis!” (Thank you, my friends). He continued: “I want to thank those who voted for the defence of the Republic.” Then he addressed those who voted for Marine Le Pen, his unsuccessful rival: “I know our disagreements, I will respect them. You have expressed anger, disarray, sometimes conviction. I respect this.” Accepting her defeat, Marine Le Pen proposed a profound transformation of her xenophobic party, which will now have a new name.
In retrospect, it was the strangest French election campaign for decades. First novelty, primaries for the Left and the Central/Right were organised. Macron’s master-stroke was perhaps to have avoided the primaries… and a possible defeat against his former Socialist Party colleagues.
His political fate took a new turn in August 2015, while serving as the Minister for Economy and Industry in François Hollande’s Government, when he stated that he was no longer a member of the Socialist Party (PS).
On April 6, 2016, in Amiens in Northern France, he founded an independent political movement, En Marche!. He was then officially reprimanded by President Hollande (though some rumours say that the entire operation to get him elected may have been piloted from the Elysee Palace).
On August 30, 2016, Macron resigned from the Government, and on November 16 he formally declared his candidacy for the French presidency. He then promised to ‘unblock France’. Very few doubt that France needs to be ‘unblocked’. Despite the post-election euphoria, difficult times are awaiting the nation which invented the French Revolution.
Interestingly, this election saw the fading of the differentiation between the political Right and the Left. Symbolically, Macron the candidate, refuses to carry a label. Though Macron’s party wants to challenge the entire political system, it might not be easy, knowing that he himself is a pure product of the establishment, having worked with Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollande.
Macron has been described a fervent European; in fact his victory gave an immediate boost to the Euro and the European stock exchanges. But which Europe?
Without being carried away like Le Pen who threatened to walk out of the Common Currency or even spoke of a ‘Frexit’, Macron will have to deal with a Europe needing more than a facelift. There is no doubt however that Macron’s victory created a sigh of relief in Europe; particularly the other side of the River Rhein. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was proably the first to call Macron to congratulate him.
It will be symbolic that at the time of Macron’s investiture in Paris, in a suburb of Beijing, China will be hosting a Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation attended by hosts of foreign heads of states and Governments. Chinese President Xi Jinping will preside over the summit in Huairou district’s Yanqi Lake area from May 14 to 15. Though India may not be officially represented, Xi’s mega dream shows that the times have changed and dynamism has today shifted to the East.
Is there a place for Europe in the New Deal? Can a young President like Macron change the tide? But before this, he will have cross many hurdles.
The first one will be the nomination of a Prime Minister who has to be acceptable to a large political spectrum; then, soon after, a government will be announced. June might be the turning point with the holding of the legislative elections.
With its strange semi-presidential system, France may witness a ‘cohabitation’ when the President is from a different political party than the majority of the members of Parliament. The President has to name a Prime Minister acceptable to the parliamentary majority — in some cases, opposed to his policies. The Prime Minister must be acceptable both to the President and to the legislature. It is not an easy endeavour. This has happened a few times since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958, making governance difficult, to say the least.
At Le Louvre, Macron admitted that the future may be thorny: “I am aware that the task will not be easy, but I will tell you the truth … [but] I want the unity of our people, the unity of our country.”
Two days before the vote, hundreds of thousands of emails and documents stolen from Macron during his campaign were dumped online and then spread by WikiLeaks. How will the new President deal with this?
Through foreign policy had not been much discussed during the campaign, Macron will need to choose a path.
During Hollande’s presidency, the Russian President was made a demon. This absurd policy took such proportions that two Mistral-class helicopter carriers, which had been ordered (and paid for) by Moscow, were never delivered to the Russian Navy. There were finally sold to Egypt… with Saudi money.
Will Macron look at this afresh, or will his horizon be limited to Syria and Russia, with small incursions in Africa, like with his his predecessor?
And what about India? Soon after the result of the election, Prime Minister Modi tweeted: “Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron for an emphatic victory in the French presidential election. I look forward to working closely with [him] to further strengthen India-France ties.”
Now, much depends on the alchemy between Modi and the new French President. In any case, the strong strategic partnership between France and India will remain in place and several files such as those on Rafale and its offsets, the Scorpene, collaboration with a few smart cities or the Solar Alliance, are on track. Can it go beyond this, it is a million Euro question?
(The writer is a keen observer of French politics and an author on India-China relations)
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