France Picks Reason over Rhetoric

France has elected its newest president, Emmanuel Macron. A fast and furious election cycle hit all the dramatic cues – two non-establishment candidates going head to head, heated and contentious debates, and even a last minute email hacking scandal.

For the first time in 50 years a non-establishment party will hold the presidency in France. Macron is a self proclaimed centrist who is business friendly and supports the European Union. Macron worked for an investment firm before serving as deputy secretary-general for the socialist president Francois Hollande in 2012. Before that Macron had little political experience and his newly minted party, “En Marche!”, currently holds no seats in Parliament. With France’s economy in stagnation and high unemployment Macron spoke about retraining France’s middle class to fit the changing needs of a global economy. Despite some gaffes during the campaign and seeming a little out of touch for most French voters, Macron has secured 65% of the votes across the nation.

France has rejected the hard right stance of Marie Le Pen and her nationalist party. While Le Pen had hoped to tap into voter fears of immigration and terrorism, her message on how best to restart France’s economy seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Le Pen made numerous promises along the campaign trail to revitalize the blue collar work force and bring middle class industrial jobs back to France. These messages were overshadowed by her extreme rhetoric involving immigration and her promises to leave the European Union – a move that many voters saw as a deathblow to the economy. While this election had a historically low turnout, the voters that did show up to polls sent a strong message to Le Pen – her neo-fascist party was not wanted here.

In what is becoming a disturbing trend, Russia appears to have attempted to sway yet another presidential election. Reports of emails and files hacked from the En Marche! party swirled late Friday night, mere hours before the mandated media blackout. The validity of the files has yet to be confirmed but Wikileaks wasted no time in spreading them across the internet. Officials believe that Russia was attempting to help the Kremlin-supported Le Pen in her campaign against Macron. The good news for France’s democracy is that, unlike the United States, voters were not swayed by vague and meritless emails.

While Macron has won the presidency, his victory as a candidate is far from assured. Once elected Macron will need to choose a prime minister who will then help fill the seats in Parliament. A two-round general election occurs in mid June, leaving little time for the young newcomer to set his agenda and begin gathering support. Ultimately Macron’s success will be determined by how many gains his new party makes in Parliament. The established parties on the left and right have already voiced their concerns about Macron and will want large concessions after he gained office with a marginal mandate. Polling suggests Macron’s party will have a majority, but it is difficult to tell this far in advance with only fourteen of the positions declared. If En Marche! fails to hold at least a simple majority Macron faces a difficult five years ahead of him.