Président Macron: Eye of the Storm

Macron’s victory in the French election does not represent a return to normality. He was elected on a protest vote, and must govern with a new parlement from July. No-one knows what shape it will have.

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Macron won. By a landslide. The almost unanimous reaction of my Facebook ‘feed was “crisis averted, good has triumphed over evil, and progressive values have defeated Fascism”.

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Le Pen lost, but Macron did not win.

The abstention rate was over 25%, the highest ever recorded since 1969, and almost 12% of voters (4 million) spoilt their ballots – the highest ever number. Furthermore, of those who voted Macron 43% did so to stop Le Pen, 33% because they hoped for a renewal of the political class, 16% because they liked his manifesto, and only 8% because they liked his personality. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Indeed, 61% of voters do not want him to have a majority in the National Assembly. Furthermore, Macron got lucky. Stars did really align for him.

  1. The centre-right Alain Juppe did not win the right wing primary. Instead Francois Fillon, who came from the right of the party, won. This created some space at the centre right for Macron.
  2. Manuel Valls, the centre-left prime minister, did not win the primary of the Partie Socialiste, but rather Benoit Hamon, who came from the left of the party, won. This created some space at the centre left for Macron.
  3. Francois Bayrou, who since 2007 had been occupying the “neither left, nor right” position of the political spectrum, decided not to stand and support Macron. In 2012 Bayrou got 9% of the votes and in February of this year he was polling at just over 5%. Had he stood it is likely that he would have scored between 2 and 4%, and this would have been at the expense of Macron.
  4. Unlike Macron, both Fillon and Melenchon had the disadvantage of having a smaller candidate with similar positions to them (Nicolas Dupont-Aignan – who scored just under 5% – for Fillon; and Benoit Hamon – who scored 6% – for Melenchon).
  5. Finally, there are the scandals involving Fillon. This did harm Fillon and Macron was probably the main beneficiary.

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Le Pen’s defeat is not a rejection of her policies.

A lot of people seem to see Le Pen’s defeat as a rejection of her policies. I think that is overly simplistic.

I still have a vivid memory of 21 April 2002 (I was 11) when, to everyone’s surprise, Jean-Marie Le Pen got to the second round. Le Pen was an actual Nazi. It was imperative that everyone vote for Jacques Chirac.

Since taking over the Front National, Marine Le Pen has pursued a strategy of “dediabolisation“. This has partly succeeded. Her share of the vote has increased, but the process is hardly complete. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan had policies that are very similar to Marine Le Pen’s and he has entered into an alliance with her, but yet only 38% of his voters voted for Le Pen (32% abstained/voted blank, 29% voted Macron). It is very likely that a candidate with the exact same policies as Le Pen, but without the name, the party, and the baggage would have performed much better than she did.

You can see where first-round losers’ sent their voters in the second round here:

Le Pen’s strategy for the second round was to attack Macron on the economy. She hoped to expose him as neo-liberal banker and so get the votes of Melenchon voters. This strategy completely failed, as she only got 9% of Melenchon’s votes. The issue is that Le Pen’s flagship economic policy, leaving the Euro, is opposed by 75% of Frenchmen.

But her other policies, especially on immigration, are much more popular. For example, 50% of people agree with her that there is too much immigration in France and 80% agree with her policy of deporting immigrants who have been convicted of a crime. Whilst the French do not want to leave the European Union, 55% want the EU to give more autonomy to member states and only 25% want more federalism. Although this was not one of Le Pen’s policies, 61% of French people are in favour of a ban on immigration from Muslim countries. Le Pen’s defeat does not change any of this.

Macron is President, what next?

The French President does not actually have that much power alone. In order to govern Macron will need a majority in the National Assembly. If another party has the majority then there will be a ‘cohabitation’, with the Prime Minister coming from that majority party. In such a case, outside the realms of foreign affairs and defence, Macron would largely be a figure-head president.

The elections will be held on the 11th and 18th June under a two round system but with a slight complication. It is not just the top two candidates who go to the second round but any candidate that gets the votes of at least 12.5% of registered voters. Typical turnout is around 55% so this means that any candidate who gets over 22% of the vote can be in the second round. Current polling places Macron’s party, En Marche, at around 24% of the votes, Les Republicains (the right wing party) at about 22% and the FN at 20%. This means that it is likely that there will be a fair amount of three way battles between EM, LR and FN. In such cases it is unlikely that one candidate will pull out. This makes it rather difficult to predict what the outcome would be.

There is another uncertainty and that is the attitude taken by the left win parties. Currently the left is divided between the Parti Socialiste, the greens, and La France Insoumise (Melenchon’s party). But if they were to stand together they could be polling in the 20%. This would make the first round of the election rather interesting with each group polling between 20% and 25%. This raise the possibilities of four way battles in the second ground (and, again, alliances are not necessarily going to happen).

One model suggests that with a divided left, Macron’s party would get the majority of seats with Les Republicains being the second largest party. The FN and Melenchon would get about 20 seats each and the Parti Socialiste would be all but eliminated. But with a united left, there would be no overall majority. The left would be the largest party, the right wing party second, Macron’s party third and the FN would have just over 100 seats. Under such a scheme Macron would have three options: (1) minority government relying on support from the left or right depending on the issues, (2) coalition government with the left (given the discontent from the left about Hollande this seems unlikely), (3) coalition government with the right. I cannot think of any reason why the right would agree to that.

The other issue is that, as I said above, most people did not vote for Macron because of his programme. Both his goals of further EU integration and of economic liberalisation are unpopular. I hope that he realises that. But judging from the fact he played the Ode To Joy, the EU’s Anthem, during his victory speech this might be too much to hope for.

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Rajiv Shah is a PhD candidate in Law at the University of Cambridge. Subscribe to the Quad. Or, read Rajiv’s last article here. Featured image by OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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