Emmanuel Macron, France’s president-elect, is being celebrated today as the saviour of Europe’s liberal-democratic tradition. His resounding defeat of Marine Le Pen’s Front National, whose media makeover only thinly veiled its fascist core, is being seen as a new dawn. Though the defeat of the Front National is, without doubt, reason for all right-thinking people to celebrate, it’s worth asking if Macron does in fact mark a new dawn in European politics. There is no mistaking the stamp of kind of centre-Left politics defined by former British prime minister Tony Blair in the 39-year-old investment banker, an aficionado of $1,000 tailored suits — France’s youngest president, and its youngest head of state since Napoleon Bonaparte. Macron’s own characterisation of his politics has been confusing, even slippery: “Liberal”, “neither left nor right”, “I am not a socialist” and “leftist” are among the descriptors he has used since 2015. His party, En Marche!, was set up to transcend what it sees as an outdated left-right political divide; Macron claims the real division in France today is between “progressives and conservatives”.
There may be a simpler explanation for Macron’s success than an ideological triumph. The so-called far-right tide sweeping the world may have been an illusion generated by electoral systems than a mass phenomenon. President Donald Trump won fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, winning only as a result of the electoral college system in the US. In Holland, Geert Wilders’ anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant campaign disintegrated as it crashed against the rocks of the proportional representation system. In France, similarly, voters who might have supported centrist or left parties could transfer their preferences to Macron or Le Pen — again, giving a better sense of who they preferred than a first-past-the-post system, like that in India, the UK or US.
France, however, could still see a revitalised far-right if Macron’s economic plans don’t deliver. Unemployment already stands at 10.1 per cent, above average for the region; one in four young people are jobless. He has promised to cut corporate taxes, but also introduce unemployment benefits to groups not covered — the self-employed, entrepreneurs and farmers — while reducing the budget deficit to the European Union-mandated target of 3 per cent. The president-elect will also have to be adroit in juggling the varied ideological agendas of his constituents, on issues like religious and cultural freedoms. The price of failure is almost too high to contemplate — yet, it is one both Macron, and the world, must be awake to.
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