More than a sigh of relief went through the capitals of Europe when it became clear on Sunday evening that the next French President will be Emmanuel Macron – and not Marine Le Pen. A victory of the right-wing populist candidate, who scared the European Union (EU) with “Frexit” would have marked the end of the European project as we know it and possibly thrown the old continent into chaos.
But the French voters decisively stopped the ascent of Le Pen and her Front National, just as earlier this year Austrian and the Dutch voters did not equip right-wing populist candidates and their parties with majorities. The populist tsunami that started with the election of Donald Trump in the United States stopped at the Atlantic – for now.
With a convincing two-third majority (66 per cent) the French voters gave Macron (39), who will be the youngest Head of State in France since Napoleon Bonaparte everything he needs to carry out his envisioned wide-reaching reform project that spans from kick-starting the French economy to reforming the European Union. But he will have no time to lose.
The fact that one third of the French voters supported a candidate like Le Pen, whose political offer is a toxic mix of xenophobia and protectionism, that would not only make France poorer but also destroy the European Union, a project that brought more than sixty years of peace and prosperity to the continent shows, how much is at stake – and in fact how deeply divided France has become.
Macron convinced voters as a fresh face and relative outsider from the petrified political establishment in Paris. But that could be a disadvantage as well. The former socialist decided to put together his own party “En Marche” and cannot rely on a majority in Parliament. Although the President has a very strong position in the French political system, the upcoming legislative elections in June are therefore crucial to the success of his reform agenda.
It will be difficult for Macron to form a majority in Parliament because parties such as the socialists and the republicans, who supported him against Le Pen will surely not agree with all he intends to do. Let alone the leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who did not even suggest his supporters to vote for Macron in the second round of the Presidential elections.
A lot therefore, will depend on how much support Macron gets from Europe, especially from its closest ally, Germany. Berlin should do everything it can to make Macron look good and avoid the impression that a German austerity agenda rules Europe. Only if Germany and France manage to join forces, Europe can carry out the necessary institutional reforms to win back frustrated voters and ensure prosperity and political stability.
As a strong European Union is in the interest of India, New Delhi, that has close and cordial relations with both countries, can do its bit to support this process.