France gives victory to Macron and liberal democracy

The re-election of President Emmanuel Macron is a welcome result for France, the EU, the Western alliance and the cause of liberal democracy around the world. On all counts, a victory for Marine Le Pen, his far-right challenger, would have been nothing short of disastrous. However, Macron’s second five-year term promises to be even tougher than the first, which was marked by furious resistance to his domestic reforms, the pandemic and, in his final months, the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia.

With his 58.5-41.5% victory over Le Pen on Sunday, Macron became the first French president to be re-elected since Jacques Chirac in 2002. It is a tribute to the political and administrative skills he has shown since 2017 that he did not lose the confidence of voters like Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, his immediate predecessors. During his first term, he achieved notable successes that eluded them, such as reducing unemployment, adopting well-designed business-friendly measures, and giving France a more dynamic and constructive role in European affairs.

Yet Macron also owed his victory to the weaknesses of Le Pen and his superficially attractive but misguided and even dangerous plans. To some extent, his campaign’s focus on cost-of-living issues paid off. Her vote share was by far the highest of any anti-establishment candidate since the birth of the Fifth Republic in 1958. She received her strongest support from voters aged 25 to 59.

Le Pen was damaged by her inconsistent economic proposals, her pro-Russian sympathies and the well-founded perception of millions of voters that she was more extreme on issues such as immigration than her new common-sense image suggested. patriotic. The defeat of Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa in Sunday’s parliamentary elections was another setback for right-wing populism in Europe.

Macron now faces the task of retaining his absolute parliamentary majority, or at least ensuring he has a manageable coalition of lawmakers behind him, in the two-round National Assembly elections on June 12-19. It is not unprecedented for a French president to govern with a legislative minority and a prime minister from a different political group. But such “cohabitation” tends to produce friction between competing personalities and branches of government, diluting the effectiveness of policy-making.

Even with a good electoral result in June, Macron will have his work cut out to extend the reforms begun in 2017, interrupted by the yellow vests protests and Covid-19. He must reshape the French pension system, but he went back in his campaign on his promise to raise the retirement age to 65. He promised in 2017 to cut the public sector, but public spending increased during his presidency after street protests and the pandemic.

None of these issues will be easy to resolve, given rising inflation, supply chain disruptions and other pressures resulting from the pandemic and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. But they will be made particularly formidable by the social and political divisions that have been laid bare during the French presidential campaign. Nearly three in five voters chose right-wing or hard-left candidates in the first round of the election, and abstention in the second round, at 28% of the electorate, reached its highest level since 1969.

To reconnect with the disaffected in society, the French president would be well advised to adopt a less haughty style of leadership. It should combine economic and state reforms with recognition of the difficulties of many provincial towns and rural areas. Macron has well deserved his second term. Now he must ensure that his presidency will leave a lasting and beneficial impact on France.