In April 2016, a few hundred people gathered in a provincial town north of Paris to hear Emmanuel Macron speak. Macron spoke of French industry and employment, and set out his vision for the future of France. He launched his brand new political movement, En Marche! (On the Move!) a little over a year ago, yet today he wakes up in the Élysée Palace as the President of France. It has been a meteoric rise for Mr Macron, who has never before held an elected office, and who spent two years working as Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in his predecessor François Hollande’s socialist government.
Macron the centrist was victorious over the far-right Front National candidate, Marine Le Pen, when he won sixty six percent of the vote in the second round run-off. It was an unusual second round which did not feature a candidate from any of the mainstream, traditional parties and with no candidate from the left of the political spectrum. It also leaves France in the highly unusual situation of a president whose party does not hold a single seat in the parliament. Of course, En Marche will be fielding candidates in the June parliamentary elections, but if Macron’s movement fails to win a majority of seats, or perhaps even any at all, then his presidency will be plagued by coalitions and a stunted agenda.
Some would argue that Mr Macron’s rise was caused by a number of lucky events for the young president, without which he would not have been elected. It helped him that the two main parties (the Republicans and the Socialist Party) chose candidates from the fringes of their respective parties. The choice between Jean-Luc Mélenchon for the left and François Fillon for the right, left a gaping hole in the centre ground which Mr Macron filled up nicely. Fillon was plagued by a scandal over his wife’s job and his attitude towards money. The Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon polled only six percent in the first round.
But what does Emmanuel Macron’s victory mean for the rest of the European Union? Well, a Macron win has removed the chance of a political and economic shock to Europe. Le Pen was ardently anti-EU and her election would have caused the whole of the union to reassess and threatened the prospect of a ‘Frexit’. However, following Macron’s win, the French stock market surged and the euro took a huge gain. His views on business and the economy will win him favour with the commercial world, such as his suggestion of cutting French corporation tax from thirty three percent to twenty five percent, which will put France near the top of the list for companies looking to relocate following Brexit.
Macron’s win will also have wide implications for Britain’s exit from the European Union. The main implication concerns the wider security of the grand European endeavour. A victory by Marine Le Pen would have further stoked the anti-EU sentiment across Europe and threatened the very existence of the Union. The EU can handle Britain deciding to leave, but if France left, the EU would be in ruins. Macron’s pro-European stance, and the fact that his first priority was a meeting with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, sends the message that the EU is safe for now, and the populist craze might well have ended with Trump’s election.
The UK’s antipathy for the European Union has failed to catch on elsewhere, with Geert Wilders’ far-right party in the Netherlands failing to deliver in their election. France’s election of a pro-European president means that Brussels can calm down, and it is less important for the EU to treat the UK harshly in negotiations to prove a point. However, this does not mean that negotiations will be plain sailing for Britain. Mr Macron has repeatedly suggested that he stands strong with the EU and believes that the negotiations should be heavily in Europe’s favour.
Consequently, although Emmanuel Macron’s victory is a relief for many across Europe, the fact that Marine Le Pen still received more than 10 million votes and increased the vote share from when her father was in the run-off in 2002, shows that the far-right populist threat is not dead yet. The EU should therefore watch Mr Macron’s presidency carefully, and any coalitions with the other parties following the June parliamentary elections should be closely examined.