- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
Emmanuel Macron — a 39-year-old former banker who formed his political party around a year ago — will be the next president of France, according to exit polls released around 8 pm local time on Sunday.
According to those polls, Macron bested his opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front with roughly 65 percent of the vote; she received around 35 percent. Turnout was 65.3 percent at 5 pm local time — down from 71.96 percent in 2012. Over a quarter of voters abstained — the highest on record for France in decades (perhaps because far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon said he would not endorse either of the candidates after he failed to make the second round).
The result, then, went much the way experts and pollsters alike expected it to go — even with an eleventh hour dump of hacked (and faked) Macron emails and documents just hours before the campaign officially ended on Friday. French media, however, also respected the blackout law — Le Monde, for example, one of the biggest papers in France, announced it would not publish or report on the Macron leaks until after Sunday’s second round vote).
Macron is expected to celebrate at a packed rally at the Louvre. Le Pen’s post-vote party was, much like her candidacy, fraught with scandal even before it got started — after media outlets like Politico and BuzzFeed France were refused admittance, Le Monde and Bloomberg refused to cover the event out of solidarity.
At Vincennes Park in Paris, Le Pen thanked the 11 million who voted for her, and all those who wanted to choose patriotism over globalization. “I call on all patriots to take part in the decisive political battles … Long live the republic, long live France.” And with that, she had conceded, and walked off the stage.
Macron thanked those who voted for him, but went on to address every citizen of France. “I’m speaking to each of you tonight, to all of you together who make up the people of France. We have a duty to our country.” He added, “It is our very civilization that is at stake,” and said he would fight against terrorism and global warming, and for the French people and Europe. “A new page of our history is starting today. I want this new page to be one of hope.”
Macron’s win is met with “an extraordinary global sense of relief,” Irene Finel-Honigman, a French politics expert at Columbia University, told Foreign Policy. From the perspective of global markets and politics, as well as from a European perspective, she said, this is “still seen as a total positive.” And, indeed, Macron’s win over Le Pen will be widely seen as a clear victory for Europe and a blow to xenophobia and fear.
But that doesn’t mean Sunday was a complete victory for Macron — or a total loss for Le Pen.
Macron’s next challenge is the parliamentary election in June. His own En Marche (Forward) movement, roughly a year old, faces an uphill battle in winning a legislative majority. “A new election will start immediately,” Pierre Vimont of Carnegie Europe said.
In the likely event that Macron’s movement does not win a majority, he will need to try to form a workable governing coalition, bringing together some from the left and the right. With jobs at the top of voters’ concerns, he’ll likely want to move quickly to enact labor market reforms, and that will require confidence of people and parliament alike.
But forming and leading a governing coalition is not so simple. For one thing, as Martin Michelot of the Prague-based EUROPEUM told FP, the traditional right and left parties — namely, the Republicans and the Socialists — were left in shambles after they both failed to make the second round (the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic that neither was able to do so).
“What will also be interesting to see is whether French politicians can develop a coalition and compromise culture,” Michelot said. “In the context of the left/right divide, whoever was in opposition tended to vote against the majority along pretty strict party lines, in what was a rather unconstructive system.”
A Macron presidency with a coalition government could be a chance to change all that — or it could mean Macron has to fight with both sides every time he wants to push a policy through, warned Columbia University’s Sheri Berman. That would only see the already massively discontented French electorate grow still more despondent.
And if that’s the case, there’s one recently defeated force that will be ready and waiting.
What we saw in this election, said Yascha Mounk, an expert on liberal democracy and populism, was “a radically transformed political landscape. [Le Pen] has more than doubled her party’s vote over the course of 15 years.” In 2002, when her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, faced Jacques Chirac, he got just 18 percent of the vote. “Imagine how she’ll do five years from now.”
“The trend line is incredibly scary,” Mounk said.
For Macron, “It’s going to be hard,” said Alessia Lefebure of Columbia University. Under the French constitution, parliament is more empowered than the president, but that hasn’t been the case — or at least hasn’t been perceived as being the case — in recent history. Still, Lefebure — like millions of French voters today — isn’t entirely pessimistic.
“I think this could be a very positive moment,” she said. “France will be again very active in Europe, bringing hope to people in Europe that see the anti-democratic movement.”
“If he’s smart, he can benefit from this momentum, and then the French will follow him.”
Update, May 7 2017, 3:12 pm ET: This post was updated to include Macron’s statement.
Photo credit: Patrick KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images