Can Macron make France a leader of the liberal world order?
The victory of Emmanuel Macron for French president and his party’s majority in parliament was perceived by many as the foundation of a new bulwark against the rise of the far-right both in Europe and around the world. After Hillary Clinton’s disappointing loss to Donald Trump in the United States’ presidential elections, it seems ill-advised to hope for any sort of truly liberal (or, apparently, coherent) leadership from the United States in the near future. The truly worrying support for Marine Le Pen’s candidacy throughout France and, indeed, Europe was enough to have many, including myself, watching the French elections with an interest usually reserved for an Australia-New Zealand Rugby World Cup final.
When the news broke that Macron’s party, En Marche, had (beyond most projections) won an actual parliamentary majority, giving him the requisite power to start making the changes to French labour law that he had been promising throughout his campaign, many political commentators were quite sincerely taken aback. Macron is young, liberal, English-speaking pro-business and pro-European Union. He is about as far as it is possible to get from either of the mainstream French parties, and in a different solar system entirely than that of his rival Marine Le Pen of Front National, the French extreme right.
However, the parliamentary majority that seemed such an impressive victory for Macron and En Marche did come under fire considering the remarkable rate of abstention from voting across France; over half of the country did not vote. Despite that crushing statistic, however, Macron has taken that majority and run, moving quickly to change laws and making a considerable impression both at home in France and overseas.
He moved quickly to secure meetings with foreign leaders and dignitaries, making generally favourable impressions. However, it would be premature to heave the sigh of relief that worldwide observers must be tempted to do. Macron’s victory does at first blush appear to be the answer of political centrists and liberals to the rising of illiberalism and the far-right in Europe and globally, but despite the optimism of that victory it is not an answer to the root causes of that rise.
“Despite the optimism of Macron’s victory, it is not an answer to the root causes of the rise of the far-right.”
It is hopeful, yes, but over the last two years particularly there has been a global step backward. There’s been downward movement in the areas of environmental policy; women’s rights; LGBTQ+ rights; and general common sense. For students of history especially, the denunciations by political figures of immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and any political or cultural group deemed sufficiently ‘other’ is of great concern and mirrors too closely a period of history that is still affecting the global psyche.
The truth of the matter is that while Macron should be given every support possible in his campaign to improve the conditions in France for everyone, in his campaign to improve relations between political groupings within France and the European Union, it cannot be denied that we are seeing a sort of worldwide re-segregation.
Brexit was a particularly damaging blow to the concept and the legitimacy of the supra-national and cooperative community of the European Union, and brought to stark light the increasing (ultra)nationalism, prejudicial and outright racist attitudes that are once again finding their way to political stages. The anti-Muslim policies and generally xenophobic positions of the Trump administration in the United States both fed and were fed by the Brexit movement, calling into question the fundamental values that Western society insists are the basis of political legitimacy.
It is difficult to see where Macron will take France in the future. It is all very well to make predictions of a more efficient economy, a closer relationship with the European Union, a commitment to positive environmental politics and an intent to change the minds of those political leaders who are moving to take history in the wrong direction.
It is entirely possible that Macron will succeed at one, a combination, or all of these eminently noble goals of his but what cannot be seen is whether this will make a blind bit of difference to the current global political trajectory. It was a relief when Macron’s victory over Le Pen was announced, because it felt like a stay of execution. It was a relief and a triumph when it was announced that against many odds he had managed to secure a parliamentary majority, because he may now be able to accomplish (some of) his stated goals. But Macron will have to build France into the sort of political powerhouse it has not been for many years if he hopes to make a true difference to current political attitudes and climate, and it is uncertain if he has the support of enough of France to make that a real possibility. For what it is worth, I hope he does.
Il faut croire que la liberté, égalité, et fraternité est plus qu’un simple proverbe. Vive la France, et Vive la République En Marche.