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France on move with cross-party vision

| | in Oped
France on move with cross-party vision

Why has Macron won? The reasons are obvious. First of all he was completely untainted unlike Le Pen and the other two candidates, one from the hard Left— Jean-Luc Melenchon — and the other from the social conservative — Francois Fillion

The choice for the French people was ever clear: “between a banker and a fascist” as the media highlighted the headlines just before the historic presidential poll (final round) on May 7.

Finally, the “peuple majoriataire” (majority of the people) expressed their verdict in favour of Emmanuel Macron over the populist Marine Le Pen. This election put France at war with itself and with the European Union (EU).

It had seen a number of political actors at play — ranging from the odious right to the vicious Left and more interestingly two pro-market reformers in the middle. But for the final round, the French people had made their voices heard to the international community.

They wanted either to go with the nationalist and authoritarian Le Pen or with the newcomer Macron. What came to light was that people had preferred youth to seniority and of course optimism over fear that nearly engulfed the country in the last three to four years. Also clearly, Macron’s victory exemplified that pro-European liberalism still has the force to win over nasty populism and cheap nationalism.

Why has Macron won? The reasons are not far to seek. First of all he was completely untainted unlike Le Pen and the other two candidates, one from the hard Left — Jean-Luc Melenchon and the other from the social conservative — Francois Fillion.

Second, after the first round of voting, it was observed that Macron topped the tally of the candidates by winning 24 per cent; Le Pen came second with 21 per cent; Fillion ranked third with 20 per cent; the Communist backed Melenchon slipped to the 4th; and  Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon sank to the dismal fifth position.

Third, his new political party — the En Marche (Move On) — which was formed only last year, attracted a huge young crowd who desperately wanted a change of guard from the traditional elite parties at Elysee Palace. Fourth, his support was evenly distributed across all age groups, though the young people remained a potent force for him throughout. Fifth, his supporters reflected the combination of three crucial elements — greater income, optimism and education — which were badly needed in a France divided sharply on EU, global terror and its economy. Sixth, Le Pen completely lost her hold over the under-25-year olds, but she remained the most favourite candidate for the working classes till the last.

But what cost Le Pen heavily was her vow to hold a referendum on taking France out of the EU and the Euro, introduction of protectionist trade barriers, strengthening ties with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, close the borders for immigrants and her outright war against jehad.

She could hardly realise that her electoral agenda created more fear than a sense of security which the country needed at this point of time. Seventh, Melenchon too, the like Le Pen, did echo the promise of a return to an idealised past.

He argued that protectionism will make France much better, less involvement with the NATO and more with Russia and willing to renegotiate terms with the EU can definitely help the country prosper. Worst was that he wanted to raise taxes on those earning more than $4,30,000 a year to 100 per cent and join a “Bolivarian Alliance with” with Cuba and Venezuela. And for Fillion, most importantly he was marred by scandals, but he believed that he could introduce shock therapy to push the country out of this impasse. He wanted to cut down 5,00,000 jobs from the country’s civil service and 100 billion Euro from public spending. But at the same time, he was in favour of raising the retirement age by three years and junk 95 per cent of the existing labour code.

In a scenario like this, Macron, who never held any elected office before, even heralded a sense of ease to majority of the voters in France. He projected himself as a zealous pro-European who desires to reinforce ties with Germany, retain France as a part of the global trading system, support NATO and stitch a cross-party support between the Left and the Right to unblock the economy. This all paid for the newcomer. The “globalist, a rootless citizen, the candidate of banks and finance and the system supported by the beau monde of France”, as Le Pen termed him, finally led the victory march.

It is all done now. But he is doing no less than wonder after assuming office. He is sending a positive signal to the largely politically divided voters across the country while making his team after taking oath as the President of the country on May 14. He named Edouard Philippe, the centre right mayor of Le Havre as the Prime Minister.

The French political analysts in particular and the European Union analysts in general feel that he has taken this crucial step just to counter balance his “own roots on the Left”. Strikingly, he picked up lawmakers from both the Right and the Left, mixing the new and the old, for making the ministerial colleagues. It is politically very significant that Macron is just trying to practice what he vowed to bring to an end: the confrontational division between the Left and the Right’ in French politics, when he launched his new movement “En Mache,” a year back. Philippe, who was a right-hand man to Alain Juppe, a Centre Right former Prime Minister, has already unlocked the defection battle much sharper by attracting two stalwarts from the Republican camp — Bruno Le Maire and Gerald Darmanin — as new Finance Minister and Budget Minister in the Macron Government. Again, the new President has made fast forward movement towards the Left as well by taking inside Jean-Yves Le Drian, the ougoing Defence Minister as the Foreign Minister and Gerard Collomb, the Socialist mayor of Lyon, as the Interior Minister.

Further, he has roped in two centrists, Sylvie Goulard, as the Defence Minister, and Francois Bayrou as the Justice Minister. Following the French tradition, he has appointed a number of political outsiders as ministers in key portfolios such as health, labour, education and environment.

This grand and the first move of the so-called “political outsider”, as some media houses dubbed him, has brought home the point that his entire team will be purely pro-European, financially conservative, friendly towards Germany and at the top of all, pragmatic.

At a time when the European Union has been witnessing the massive “Brexit” move, it is good that with the coming of Macron, the outcry for a “Frexit” is on hold for now. Rather the French people will look for a stable economy and a much stronger partnership with the EU than ever before. Indeed it is testing time for France.

For Angela Merkel in Germany, there are more reasons to be happy when the ultimate goal-oriented political tactician has just seen a strategic minded whiz kid in Macron in the Elysee Palace. The two ‘M’s —Merkel and Macron — have to work closely and it was clear to the global audience when both of them addressed a joint press conference after Macron’s takeover as the head of the French State.

Merkel seemed politically rejuvenated with Macron, who excels in mental agility and nimbleness, after encountering ever-impulsive Nicolas Sarkozy and the “wet noodle” that was Francois Hollande at Elysee.

At the end, Macron must be cautious that the grubby compromises and political manoeuvring that he is doing for now must be able to make his La Republique en Marche (as he re-baptised the party after the election), a viable political alternative in the coming parliamentary election in the next month.

This will be his first test to see how once his political detractors turned colleagues now help him realise his “cross-party vision” in the national interest. If at all they obstruct the same for their old partisan gain and display their tribal instincts, then Macron’s new project and a vision for a recalibrated France will, if not doomed to fail, at least face serious challenges from within. Hope his new team realises it and helps “The Republic on the Move”.

(The writer is an expert on international affairs)

 
 
 
 
 
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