Editorial from Economist, UK
Emmanuel Macron;Electoral victory will make France’s president a potent force
But he will still have to face down a challenge from the street
FLORENCE LEHERICY is a nurse, but on Monday she is likely to start a new career as a parliamentary deputy for Calvados, in northern France. Jean-Marie Fiévet, a fireman, will join her from a constituency in Deux Sèvres in the west. Both are political novices. They belong to La République en Marche! (LRM), the movement behind Emmanuel Macron, who last month also won his first ever election—and duly took control of the Elysée Palace. Welcome to the revolution.
Across France people have risen up against a political class that failed them. The first round of voting for the legislature, on June 11th, suggests that LRM, which Mr Macron created only 14 months ago, will win at least 400 of its 577 seats. The Socialists will lose 90% of their deputies, including their leader who did not even make the run-off. The Republicans will hang on to more, but they expected to win this election—until a few weeks ago, when LRM’s victory became as inevitable as the blade sliding down the guillotine.
Mr Macron offers a fresh answer to the popular discontent that has swept through Western democracies. He promises a new politics that ditches divisions between left and right. He wants to restore dynamism and self-belief to France and, with Germany’s help, to the European Union. And he is being watched from abroad by politicians who, in their own countries, cannot seem to make themselves heard above the din. For his revolution to succeed, he needs to have good ideas and the ability to carry them through. Does he?
A different kind of rebel
Mr Macron is the right man at the right time. Voters tired of France’s stale politics wanted an outsider. Although he comes from the establishment—he is a graduate of an elite college, an ex-banker and an economy minister under his predecessor, François Hollande—Mr Macron has never been a party man. He has designed LRM to act as a break with the past. Half of its candidates are new to politics. Half are women. It has campaigned against corruption. In the outgoing assembly the most common age is 60-70; the average of LRM’s novices is 43. (Just think of Sri Lanka’s John A, vasu, RW, My3, marapona, MR, nishantha, at el. -TW)
Whereas most populists cleave to right and left, the Macron revolution is to the centre. He steals policies without prejudice—from the right, a desire to free up markets and businesses to create jobs and wealth; from the left, a belief in the role of government to shape, direct and protect. In the battle between open and closed, Mr Macron is broadly for open in both trade and immigration. In French terms, he is an economic liberal.
And, crucially, he is an optimist. For decades France has suffered from the morose belief that politics involves struggle, but no real solutions. That sabotages reform: why give up what you have today for something worse tomorrow? Elsewhere in Europe, democracy often seems a joyless transaction in which voters are asked to endorse politicians’ empty promises in exchange for benefit cuts and shoddy public services.
Somehow, Mr Macron has convinced the French that progress is possible. He has hit back against populist taunts that free markets are a concession to the bankers and the globalists with refreshing patriotism—whether by crushing the hand of Donald Trump or restoring pomp to the presidency. Against warnings about immigrants and foreign competition, he asserts that both will invigorate France, not enfeeble it. To Eurosceptics who accuse Brussels of sucking the life out of the nation, he insists that, no, the EU magnifies French power.
Good ideas are not enough. Mr Macron must also break the habit of 30 years in which France’s reforms have been blocked by the hard left (perhaps vasu types and not Peter Keunaman kinds -TW). Success rests on early, visible progress in two areas—employment and relations with Germany.
French unemployment is double what it is in Germany. For the under 25s, it is stuck above 20%. Firms are reluctant to create permanent jobs because of high social charges and because redundancy and dismissal are expensive and difficult. Mr Macron wants to lower employment taxes and to make workplace bargaining more flexible. Success in the labour market will help him win over Germany, which has lost faith in France’s ability to keep up. So will getting a grip on France’s public spending and its army of bureaucrats. Germany, often standoffish, should give Mr Macron the benefit of the doubt. He is the best, and possibly last, chance to create the impetus for the euro zone to shore up the structure of the single currency.
LRM’s landslide makes this programme more likely to succeed. Mr Macron has been lucky. His chief opponent on the mainstream right, François Fillon, was fatally damaged by allegations of corruption. LRM’s victory will be flattered by France’s two-round voting system. A strong EU economy will create jobs (if he is not to jeopardise that, he needs to go easy on the budget cuts). As Theresa May, Britain’s hapless prime minister, can attest, firm control of the assembly will cement his good fortune (see article).
However, resistance will move to the streets. Already, the ancien régime is warning that the election leaves Mr Macron dangerously powerful, and that the turnout of under 50% has deprived him of a mandate. Militant hard-left unions are threatening to fight his labour-market reforms all the way.
They must be faced down. The French president is indeed powerful—but in recent years the problem has been the weakness of the Elysée, not its dominance. The turnout was low, but it has been falling for years and is not much lower than in America or Canada. The unions speak for only the 8% of workers who are their members. That is no mandate. It is what ordinary citizens like Ms Lehericy and Mr Fiévet have been elected to sweep away.
Plenty could go wrong. Expectations of Mr Macron are sky high. Though LRM has experienced politicians to keep order, it could prove chaotic and amateurish. There will be strikes and marches. As the pain bites, the French public will need to hear again and again why reform will benefit the nation.
These risks are obvious. More remarkable is the revolution that Mr Macron has already achieved. The hopes of France, Europe and centrists everywhere are resting on him.
This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Europe’s saviour?”