The victor has his plate full: from winning June’s parliamentary election and reviving growth to managing testy relations with Russia and the US.
After a particularly high voltage election day fraught with the threat of a terrorist attack and a media blackout, France has elected a new president with Emmanuel Macron winning 66.06% of the vote to Marine Le Pen’s 33.94%. The result is a departure from tradition for more than one reason.
At 39, the centrist Macron – a former investment banker – is France’s youngest president. Compared to his rival candidates, he has limited political experience and his party, En Marche!, which was founded as recently as 2016, could, at best, be described as a movement as it lacks an organised structure like the traditional left (the Socialist Party), and right (the Republicans). By electing him to power, the French electorate has voted for change and to some extent, taken a leap of faith into the unknown.
The quinquennat (five year term) of President Macron will be replete with challenges and opportunities at all levels – national, regional and global.
Parliamentary elections in June: the litmus test
Macron has promised to remedy the economic impasse and boost France’s growth prospects by introducing major reforms in taxation and labor. To be able to implement these reforms, he would need to have a majority in parliament. It is in this context that the parliamentary elections in June assume great importance and could prove to be the real litmus test for the Macron presidency.
Presently, En Marche! has no parliamentary seats; it would need 289 out of 577 seats to get a clear majority. Polls predict that Macron would be able to win 249 to 286 seats. He also has the support of candidates of the left and right who are willing to throw their weight behind him. This would clearly put Macron ahead of the other parties and help him select a prime minister of his choice and avoid the cumbersome arrangement of a coalition.
Lowering the rate of unemployment, particularly among the youth, is crucial to contain the rise of populist sentiments.
New hope for European unity
Macron’s victory has come at an opportune moment f0r the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome – the founding pact of the European Union. The refugee crisis, Brexit, the imminent danger of ‘Frexit’ and Trump’s anti-EU stance have all contributed to weakening the position of the bloc and pushing it to the brink of disintegration. Macron is committed to the European project and believes that France, which is one of the founding countries of the Union, along with Germany, has a pivotal role to play. He is convinced that, to survive, the EU is in need of serious reforms. On its part, the EU has pinned its hopes on Macron to pull France out of its economic malaise. As the second biggest economy of Europe, France’s economic vitality is crucial to the survival of the bloc.
There is also the expectation that the new president will revive the Franco-German alliance and assume responsibility as an equal partner; the success of this, of course, will hinge on France’s own economic reforms.
With Macron as president, the EU is now in a stronger position to negotiate the conditions for Brexit. France will be the only major military power in the EU with a seat at the UNSC when Britain leaves the bloc. In this context, there would be a pressing urgency to strengthen the EU’s defence capability to intervene where NATO chooses not to. Therefore, consensus on defence spending within the EU framework could pose a challenge.
France and the new international order
France is one of the Western powers that have been heavily involved in the ongoing war in Syria. Macron has been very vocal about his support for military intervention in Syria against the Assad regime and strikes against the Islamic State. Security issues will be a top priority for the new administration and would have to be dealt with deftly while maintaining harmony with its Muslim citizens.
With regard to Russia, Macron has expressed his support for sanctions against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine. He has urged Russia to respect the Minsk agreements and has labeled its foreign policy position aggressive. Russian disinformation campaigns could prove to be a veritable danger and could contribute to weaken the EU internally.
It would be interesting to see how Macron deals with the Trump administration particularly since there are a number of issues where the two sides have divergent views – on NATO, climate change mitigation, the Muslim travel ban, protectionism.
France and India have shared warm ties for decades. This relationship could be further strengthened, particularly with respect to issues related to security in the Indian Ocean region. Renewable energy and climate change mitigation are also areas where the two countries could jointly assume leadership roles.
The new occupant of the Elysée has challenges a plenty, however, his presidency opens a new chapter in the history of the Hexagon and possibly, marks the dawn of the Sixth Republic.