Emmanuel Macron is France's President-in-waiting after election success

On May 7 the centrist, pro-European will become the youngest French leader since the Emperor Napoleon and the youngest leader of any large democracy in recent times.


The unpredictable has become the near certain.

The next French president will be a 39-year-old grandfather who has never held elected office.

On May 7 Emmanuel Macron will become the youngest French leader since the Emperor Napoleon and the youngest leader of any large democracy in recent times.

In the first round of the French presidential elections on Sunday, Macron – pro-Israeli but critical of the present government in Jerusalem – took first place with 23.9 per cent of the vote.

The National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, also qualified for the two candidate run-off with 21.4 per cent.

Both the “natural” parties of government, the centre-right Les Republicains and centre-left Socialists, failed to reach the second round for the first time since France switched to Presidential politics almost 60 years ago.

The result can be seen as yet another rejection of the “elite” and the “status quo”. 

At the same time, it consecrated the extraordinary rise of a young man who is pure product of the French elite and wishes to repair rather than destroy the status quo in both France and the European Union.

Despite the narrow margin, the first round of the election was a startling victory for the centrist, reformist, pro-European Macron and, arguably, a moral defeat for Le Pen.

Despite the populist wave which gave the world Brexit and Donald Trump, despite an agonising series of Islamist terrorist attacks in France, the anti-European and Islamophobic Madame Le Pen scored only three percentage points more than she did in 2012.

Two months ago she led the French polls with around 26-27 per cent. In the regional elections in 2015, her cosmetically deodorised far-right party took 28 per cent of the vote in the first round.

The French polls – remarkably accurate before Sunday’s first round – have always suggested that Madame Le Pen would lose any second-round match-up by a wide margin.

Against Macron, the opinion polls now suggest that she will lose by around 40-60 per cent.

Politics hates a certainty. There will be alarms and excursions before the second round on May 7. That gap may narrow. Almost all senior figures on the centre-left and centre-right of French politics have called on their supporters to vote for Macron and “bar the way” to Le Pen. 

Some voters on the French centre-right and hard -left, whose candidates scored around 19 per cent each last Sunday, will ignore that advice and abstain or cast protest votes for Le Pen.

But it is unthinkable, even in these revolutionary political times, that Macron will lose a 20 per cent lead. His real problem will come in the “de facto” third and fourth rounds – the parliamentary elections which follow in June.

The French electorate is often perverse but it has never – until now - been so perverse as to deny a newly-elected President a parliamentary majority. Macron’s one year old party, En Marche! (“forwards” or “let’s go”) will run candidates in all 577 constituencies but he will find it difficult to dislodge the residual, local loyalty to candidates of the “old” parties.

Expect a hopeless hung national assembly from which Macron will have laboriously to assemble a centrist majority.

Macron, whose wife Brigitte is 25 years his senior and was once his teacher, has had an extraordinary rise. He served for less than two years as finance minister in the Francois Hollande government. He previously worked for the French arm of Rothschilds bank.

On Middle Eastern politics, he is an unconditional supporter of the state of Israel but not the Netanyahu government. He has, like on many other issues, given subtly differing accounts of his views on the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Above all, Macron may be that rarest of breeds – a lucky politician. The waves have miraculously parted, to the left and to the right, to allow him to walk to the gates of the Elysee Palace. There are now growing signs that he will inherit a long-awaited French economic recovery.

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