Macron’s victory is an opportunity for France and the EU

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In 2017, France bucked the populist trend by voting for Emmanuel Macron against Europhobe Marine Le Pen. In 2022, he has done it again – just as Slovenia looks set to eject its nationalist leader.

An overwhelming display of pro-EU values? Not enough. Macron’s lead is narrower than last time – around 58%, down from 66% – and turnout was at its lowest in decades. Voter fatigue is high.

Yet visions of a post-Brexit and Trump anti-elite ‘domino’ effect are increasingly fading in a post-Ukraine and post-Covid world. The French voted for a France at the heart, not on the periphery, of Europe – but which must better protect its citizens.

There is an opportunity for Macron here. France carries strategic weight as the EU’s only nuclear power, with an economy better performing than Germany’s and less dependent on Russian gas in times of war and soaring energy prices. But he needs better direction.

The banker-turned-president knows he has to change his style of government at home. His liberal reform agenda is no longer in sync with French support for an expanded post-Covid state, and will require cooperation with rival parties and unions, and polite green and left credentials.

Even though voters ultimately rejected Le Pen’s call for a crushing of European cooperation and a rapprochement with Russia, his economic left-wing campaign earned him a better score than in 2017. voters turn the sustained in the second round, according to Ipsos.

Macron’s recent talking points and victory speech reflect a desire to build a bigger political tent. Provided he sails through the next few months with the right government in tow, he should be able to cobble together a (likely small) majority after the June parliamentary election. Saxo Bank’s Christopher Dembik estimates there’s less than a 25% chance he won’t.

Although there are no guarantees against demonstrations or strikes, obtaining a majority or a coalition would reduce the risk of legislative deadlock at a time when France is juggling a debt-to-GDP ratio of 113% and is under pressure to improve pay and performance in sectors like healthcare. and education.

On the European stage, Macron will also have to find a new balance between humility and openness. Unity on Russia sanctions is fraying, more EU members are on the verge of joining NATO (which he once called ‘brain dead’) and the political center of gravity is shifting to the east, where Paris has in the past failed to build a diplomatic capital. Climate transition, the regulation of technological platforms and the closing of corporate tax loopholes are other items on the agenda.

There too, there is an opportunity. France’s geopolitical weight is essential to reinforce a pro-Ukrainian position when it comes to supporting kyiv financially and militarily, as well as reducing European dependence on Russian oil and gas. Paris’ ability to push Berlin on these issues will be vital, given that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – the first foreign leader to call Macron after his re-election – is under pressure from his coalition to take a clearer line on Vladimir Putin.

Undoing the region’s energy ties while simultaneously increasing its defense capabilities will come at a cost. A re-elected Macron should use his political momentum to recapture the spirit of the EU’s $1 trillion pandemic recovery plan and push for more spending and solidarity via joint borrowing, as previously proposed in partnership with the EU. Italian Mario Draghi.

Meanwhile, France’s far-right and far-left parties are going nowhere. They are likely to have a greater political presence as two of the three major electoral blocs (alongside Macron’s centrists) emerge from the rubble of 20th century left-right divisions. With Macron unable to serve a third term, the risk of another polarizing stalemate in 2027 remains.

Still, Le Pen faces serious pressure, according to Catherine Fieschi, director of Counterpoint. Le Pen bet the farm on a normalization strategy that excised toxic Frexit politics and retouched his party’s fascist past in favor of cat videos and budget giveaways. Her score just above 40% suggests that, short of a surprise outperformance in June, she has peaked as a presidential candidate.

Macron made history as the first French president to be re-elected since 2002. Despite evidence of deep fissures in society and a reluctance to embrace the president’s rhetoric for a liberal “revolution,” it still means something. If he doesn’t deliver on his promise of more protection at home and more projection abroad, it will be a huge missed opportunity.

• The German president embodies his Russian failures: Andreas Kluth

• “President Le Pen” would be a disaster for France

• EU must seize Hamilton moment to lift euro’s role: Jenny Paris

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the European Union and France. He previously worked at Reuters and Forbes.

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