A general sense of relief, mixed with skepticism, following Emmanuel Macron's victory at the presidential polls: The French electoral campaign has revealed a deep political divide that the president-elect must now bridge if he is to lead the way forward for France and Europe. Our Europe expert Joachim Fritz-Vannahme examines what priorities Macron must set.
Two-thirds of French voters chose Emmanuel Macron, an independent and pro-European politician, to be their president. One-third voted for the right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen – far fewer than many observers and the candidate herself had predicted – but enough to back up her claims of representing the strongest opposition party on election night. One in four registered voters chose instead to stay home. In addition to these 12 million abstentions, another four million voters cast either blank or invalid ballots.
In other words, the general feeling about France's youngest-ever elected president is one of skepticism mixed with relief both at home and abroad. Indeed, the country's political landscape is in need of rapid renovation. The divided country must work hard to give shape to its future and, at the same time, work closely with Germany to show the way forward for a rudderless Europe. And time is running out.
In just four weeks, the French National Assembly elections will be held. It's more than unclear whether the traditional left- or right-of-center camps will prove capable of overcoming their defeat with renewed élan by then. Many observers doubt that Le Pen will be able to live up to her vow to lead the Front National through a "deep transformation" and pundits are equally skeptical that Macron's call to arms "En marche!" will prove capable of gathering enough momentum in such a short period of time.
France is more deeply divided than the European average
Over the last few weeks, Macron has clearly stated his aims. France must reform both its labor market and public finances if it is to expect Germany's support and approval in a thorough reform of the euro. Macron therefore proposed establishing a eurozone budget and finance minister to be underpinned by a European Monetary Fund, in part to facilitate an end to austerity while fostering new growth.
During the first round of voting, Macron watched as nearly 50 percent of voters showed support for Euroskeptics and the EU's opponents on both the left and right. During the second round, Macron may have been pleased to see his rival garner much less backing than expected – though with 11 million votes, Le Pen achieved the Front National's record number in the party's history.
As French president, Emmanuel Macron will need to meet expectations not only in Berlin and Brussels, but among citizens at home as well. The French are torn between the desire to remain an open-minded country and the yearning to find some sort of solace in a "national" identity. Whereas some want to proactively determine their future – and therefore welcome Macron's commitment to reform – others fear being subjected to a future they cannot influence and remain skeptical of his aims. While the former place their hopes in a new political center as it redesigns the political landscape, the latter are turning to the radical fringes of the political spectrum. The French electorate is more deeply divided than the rest of Europe, on average, a conclusion substantiated by the Bertelsmann Stiftung's recent eupinions survey. Clearly, neither governing nor introducing reforms will prove easy under these circumstances.