France has elected a new President: What comes next?

Many in France view the victory of centrist newcomer Macron with relief. But what comes next?

May 10, 2017 15:11

France has a new President, a brilliant young man whose audacity, political flair and singlemindedness carried a political neophyte from nowhere to victory in a single year. True, the existing order was already faltering and the primaries produced unelectable mainstream candidates both left and right that opened new space in the political centre. Marine Le Pen, who had worked for a decade to become respectable, blew it all with a disastrous debate performance that showed her unpleasant, divisive and empty. By contrast, Emmanuel Macron delivered a message of sincerity, hope and national reconciliation.

The road ahead won’t be easy and some are already demonstrating in the streets. The President needs a parliamentary majority, preferably without alliances, so his “movement” will contest all 577 seats in the national assembly. He starts, of course, from zero with no established local presence. His critics say he is just another product of the “elitist system”, a Francois Hollande reincarnated or the incarnation of detested finance and global capitalism. But he has consistently confounded his critics and he will benefit from a widespread desire for political renewal. While he occupies centre stage, his adversaries are caught in the backwash of electoral failure: divisive internal arguments about polices and people, complicated by Macron’s magnetic attraction.

And then there is the President himself. Still not well known and clearly underestimated, his spectacular ascension needs a better explanation than plain good luck. He had no programme, they said, but he clearly has a vision for the future. A strong rejuvenated French state built on individual entrepreneurship and reconciled with the world as it is, unafraid of globalisation demons. A France of self-confidence and conquest, reclaiming its rightful place beside Germany in a Europe that protects better than any nation can alone.

Biographers describe a supremely self-confident young man with a sense of personal destiny. Steely determination behind the ready smile. A rare capacity to listen, negotiate and persuade. Intellectual agility and the ability to adapt. Pragmatism not ideology. No rash promises, but a commitment to reform. A man who met his future wife, 24 years his senior, in drama class: wooed her away from her husband and charmed her three children. After returning from the private sector to government – reversing the modern trend -- he resigned to make his own political career. Emmanuel Macron has now made two generations of seasoned politicians look suddenly old, brushing aside in the process two former presidents and three prime ministers.

Jews voted overwhelmingly for Macron, responding to impassioned calls by Jewish institutions, orthodox and liberal synagogues, and the business lobby in a rare show of unanimity. Macron helped his case by rejecting unilateral recognition of a Palestine state and promising tolerance of both kippa and Muslim veil in public. He was visibly enchanted by Israel the “start-up nation”.

France is still deeply fractured between winners and losers of globalisation, between city and country, between old and young, while the young are themselves split between pragmatists and revolutionaries. Ideology is not dead. Decline and decadence are still popular themes among intellectuals. What it means to be French must be defined anew. Islam of France must reform itself and immigrant ghettos need to be reconstructed. But the new President is aware of the challenges and clearly undaunted. He will benefit from favourable economic conditions and a growing awareness in Germany that Europe needs reform. The Jews I know have put their emigration plans on hold for now. The best we can hope for is that the new President succeeds.


Reuven Levi, Paris

May 10, 2017 15:11

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