Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief.  As reported by Reuters:

Emmanuel Macron was elected French president on Sunday with a business-friendly vision of European integration, defeating Marine Le Pen, a far-right nationalist who threatened to take France out of the European Union.

The centrist’s emphatic victory, which also smashed the dominance of France’s mainstream parties, will bring huge relief to European allies who had feared another populist upheaval to follow Britain’s vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president.

Marine Le Pen is down yet again; the French pollsters were right after all.  It’s not just NATO and the EU that can sleep a little better; so too can the poll-pushers of the West.

While that is certainly good news for defenders of Europe’s established order, it’s hardly the end of the story.  Emmanuelle Macron represents the last chance for neoliberalism in France. Should he fail, he will leave the field open to Le Pen, or someone like her.

France’s biggest problem: the European Union

French economic doldrums, migration anxiety and multicultural misgivings are all wrapped up in the European Union.  The EU was designed to ease the geopolitical stressors that kept leading to world wars.  Combined with NATO, it has done that with aplomb.  But to solve one problem has revealed several others.

First and foremost, the European Union faces the danger of becoming a German hegemony.  German resources, human capital, and economic efficiency have turned the EU into a gigantic export market for Berlin.  In 2015, France had a $30 billion trade deficit with Germany.  Germany’s economy is both bigger and more diverse than France’s – and it competes with French products in key sectors, especially in cars and machines.

To compete more effectively with Germany means to do one of three things, two of which are impossible in the EU: build trade barriers, negotiate independence French trade treaties, or gamble on neoliberal reforms.  Alas, trade barriers are illegal among EU states, and the EU speaks on France’s behalf when it comes to trade deals.  That’s one big reason why Le Pen wanted to renegotiate France’s status in the EU: doing so would free her hand to try out more mercantilistic policies.  Marcon rejected that; voters, it seems, agreed with him.

So Macron will continue to play by EU rules and hope he can shake loose the inefficiencies holding back the French economy, tempering down France’s stubbornly high unemployment.

But that’s hardly all.  Marcon must also face down the migrant crisis and the accompanying culture wars raging across France.  This is where Le Pen had her greatest strength: her harsh but clear cut vision of French identity resonated with voters concerned that migration, especially from Muslim countries, would erode France’s national identity.  Marcon has been tepid on how he’d deal with the waves of migrants hoping to gain asylum in Europe.  What’s worse is that as an EU state he can’t take unilateral action – should the EU decide to keep borders open, so too must France.

The refugee crisis in a relatively new phenomenon: it began in earnest only in 2014.  French presidential terms run five years.  If migrants continue to swamp Europe’s shores, and if someone of them continue to choose to conduct terrorist attacks, France might be a considerably more right-wing place in 2022.

Spectacular Sunni supremacist attacks in France have almost certainly driven French voters to the right, especially on the issue of Islam in France.  This time, French voters were highly cognizant of the parallels between Le Pen’s anti-Muslim’s rhetoric and Hitler’s anti-Jewish speeches, and it was a key reason they rallied against her.  Yet that patience cannot be taken for granted.  Political shifts don’t happen in single election cycles.

And if he fails?

Marcon is remarkable because he is young and founded a brand-new party out of the ashes of the discredited Republican and Socialists.  Yet his party’s vision is not terribly radical: it proffers adjustments rather than revolution.  In an era of upheaval, Macron’s victory may say a lot more about everyone else’s deficiencies than his political strengths.  The center-right Republicans have cannibalized themselves in scandal; the Socialists are on life support after an incompetent turn at the wheel.

And therein lies the great danger.  Francoise Hollande, the unbelievably unpopular Socialist president (he once had a dismal 4% approval rating), mentored Marcon.  Did Hollande’s terrible political skills rub off on Macron?  Will his youth prove not to be an asset but a liability as he learns the French system?  Will his background as an investment banker produce yet another pro-1% political regime that pools wealth upward?  Will terrorists discredit his support for refugees?  Will a bungled war in Francophone Africa humiliate him in front of France’s nationalists?

The upcoming June French legislative elections will demonstrate just how weakened they truly are, as French voters show if they’re ready to throw out their old legislators just as readily as they threw out their old presidential parties.  If their decimation continues there, it will open a vast political gap in France for more radical parties on both the left and right to surge forward.

And if Macron repeats the failures of Hollande, it will leave no one on the field but the National Front and Marine Le Pen.


4 thoughts on “Emmanuelle Macron’s Multiplying Challenges

  1. It would appear the French presidential voters are much smarter than American presidential voters. Hopefully Marcon doesn’t have a Twitter account.


  2. The article argues correctly that 5 years down the line a Le Pen candidacy will be much more dangerous than now.

    However, I disagree that negotiating independent trade treaties would make France more competitive with regards to Germany. There are no better trade treaties to be had than by being a member of the EU. The Brits have started to realize that harsh truth very quickly. Just you wait until Brexit has been completed in earnest.

    Another possibility to get more competitive would be for France to start investing more while convincing Germany to give up more of its surplus to ensure social cohesion within the EU. However, a special deal would have to be made with the Visegrad states who happen to get most of the EU subsidies at the moment.

    I am also somewhat pessimistic about the medicine of neoliberalism.

    Since the global economic system is creaking at the seams, (growth in) overpopulation eradicates any growth in GDP and farming soil for most countries, and the price of digging hydrocarbons out of the ground cannot be afforded anymore by most consumers (look at the yoy consumption of oil in your respective country since 2008!), our industrial civilization is heading for the rocks within less than 20 years.

    Therefore, I do think that we should go out in a debt fueled boom with possible hyperinflation rather than a miserable and tortuous deflation over a decade or more.

    Right now, all western countries fight off deflation. Invest in infrastructure, give free handouts for consumption to the citizens rather than to the banks, and enjoy the last hooray.

    As no lobbyist or banker will agree with my assessment, Macron will achieve very little, may not get a second five year period, and Le Pen might be the president of France in 2022.


    1. In regards to energy, there are emerging technologies that may well help solve those problems – i.e., the electricity-generating roadways being installed in California. Fracking, in the meanwhile, has found a large fossil fuel source that can support growth until green technologies are ready to dominate the economy.

      But I think you’re right that there’s a lot of problems finding new ways to grow the economy and provide jobs in the 21st century. I posit it will be a creative economy, with lots of jobs that will be based on low-resource digital work (apps and games, for example, could be nearly carbon neutral on their own, if all they’re using is electricity).


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