President Macron will face an uphill start

President Macron will face an uphill start

On May 7th Emmanuel Macron won a sweeping victory against Marine Le Pen. However, France’s youngest president will face a challenging start as his mandate will in part depend on the outcome of the June parliamentary elections. His liberal reforms are also likely to face a strong opposition.

On Sunday, May 7th France held the second round of the 2017 presidential elections. Former banker and Minister of Economy Emmanuel Macron clearly won the polls. The centrist leader of the En Marche! movement obtained a sweeping 66 percent of the total votes becoming the youngest president of the French republic. His victory has been hailed as a major success for the pro-EU and liberal camp as the nationalist candidate of the Front National, Marine Le Pen, lost with 33.9 percent of the votes. Macron will officially become the new French President on 14 May. His victory has led to celebratory remarks by the EU and fellow European governments. It is also likely to lead to a favourable market outlook for France as fears of a

Macron will officially become the new French President on 14 May. His victory has led to celebratory remarks by the EU and fellow European governments. It is also likely to lead to a favourable market outlook for France as fears of a eurosceptic government has been brushed aside. However, in the first weeks of his term Macron will face substantial challenges linked to his need to form a working parliamentary majority. In addition, his liberal agenda will almost certainly be systematically challenged by left-wing parties.

Macron is not Chirac

Macron’s victory on May 7th will rightfully go down in history as a substantial defeat for the FN and a victory for the pro-EU and liberal camp. However, the President Elect’s position against eurosceptics and nationalists has been relatively weak. Sunday’s elections saw the FN obtain its highest score to date since its creation in 1972. The party garnered 33.9 percent of votes reaching above the symbolic 10 million mark. This comes in stern contrast to the 2002 elections, the only other time when the FN reached the second round. In 2002, then President Jacques Chirac obtained 82 percent of the votes and FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen stagnated at 17 percent.

In addition Macron’s victory was marred by an extremely high abstention rate. Close to 25 percent of the French electorate abstained and of those who voted, 11 percent cast a blank or null ballot. This shows that while Macron managed to successfully mount a campaign against Le Pen’s FN, his agenda failed to garner a widespread support that goes beyond the anti-FN feeling of the electorate.

A pyrrhic victory?

President Francois Hollande congratulated Francois Macron and stated that his former minister’s victory would bode well for a continuity of the policies in place since 2012. While Macron’s victory does decrease the overall political risk in France, the aftermath of the 2017 presidential campaign may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for the liberal and pro-EU camp. Macron’s victory came at a big cost for both the centre-right and centre-left traditional parties. Both the Parti Socialiste (PS) and Les Republicains (LR) obtained historically low scores and the second round saw a growing split between those calling to support Macron and those opposed to his candidacy.

This was especially visible among the LR party in which the right-wing section has opposed the organisation’s support to Macron.  A potential restructuring of the French political sphere is likely to lead to a clearer opposition pitting pro-EU liberals against anti-EU nationalists thus crystallising the political debate and resulting in a wider challenge to Macron’s centrist agenda.

The struggle for the parliament

The 2017 presidential elections were unique as both parties competing in the second round lacked any previous substantial parliamentary presence. French voters will again go to the polls in June 2017 for the country’s legislative elections. These polls will determine the nature of the Macron’s term as they will result in a fresh majority that will define the way the new president will interact with the country’s legislative body. Macron stated that En Marche! would push for an independent centrist majority in the parliament.

However, the centrist movement will almost certainly face a strong opposition by the centre-right LR. Following Francois Fillon loss, the LR gambled that the party would support Macron’s candidacy against the FN to then obtain a centre-right parliamentary majority to influence the president’s policy-making. The weeks leading up to June polls are likely to lead to a strong political campaign by all parties, including the defeated FN. This will further complicate Macron’s first weeks in office as his measures will remain subject to political calculations targeting the legislative polls.

A strong opposition

In addition to issues pertaining to the formation of a government and the upcoming parliamentary elections, President Macron will face a strong opposition from left-wing parties. Jean-Luc Melenchon’s France Insoumise (FI) movement became the country’s fourth political force during the first round of the elections with 19.5 percent of the votes. French political commentators have agreed that Melenchon built one of the most successful campaigns. He later refused to call his supporters to vote Macron against Le Pen.

Following Macron’s victory, Melenchon has stated that his movement would conduct a major opposition to the newly elected president liberal reforms. As demonstrated by the major anti-government protests held between February and September 2016, any attempt to structurally reform the French labour market, fiscal system and public sector is highly likely to lead to a strong response by far-left groups and unions. President Macron’s economic agenda will almost certainly be contested by these movements and protests may result in periodic episodes of violent unrest and rioting.

Pressing matters

With a high unemployment rate, deep social fractures, an elevated terrorist threat and a divided political class, President Macron’s term will begin with a set of high-profile issues requiring almost immediate attention. It is probable that newly elected president will start with a partial reform of the fiscal system aimed at diminishing the tax burden for middle-class families. However, measures pertaining to a judicial sector overhaul and institutional reform will closely follow potentially putting him at odd with previous allies of the PS.

On the international level, Macron will almost certainly maintain a strong pro-EU alignment with Berlin which will result in France pushing for tough negotiations with the UK over the Brexit deal. Paris is also expected to maintain a strong US-aligned stance in regard of its relations with Russia.  As part of ongoing anti-terrorist measures, Macron’s presidency is not expected to substantially deviate from President Hollande’s response to the 2015 and 2016 attacks.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Riccardo Dugulin

Riccardo Dugulin is an analyst at Drum Cussac, a global business risk consultancy. He specializes in supporting international organizations and large corporations operating in emerging markets by providing them with critical risk management intelligence. His regions of expertise are the Near East, the Gulf, North Africa and Continental Europe. He previously worked as project manager for a French medical assistance company. He gained field experience in the Middle East having worked for leading think tanks in Dubai and Beirut. Riccardo holds a Master in International Affairs from the Sciences Po – Paris and a Bachelor in Middle Eastern Studies from the same university. Follow him on Twitter @RiccardoDugulin.