French Elections: After Macron Win, Eyes Turn to Legislative Polls

11 May 2017

Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election on Sunday 7 May, with the centrist former economy minister defeating far-right candidate Marine Le Pen by a 66 to 34 percent margin.

Both presidential candidates were from “outside” parties, marking the first time in the 60 years since the Fifth Republic was established that neither of the traditional socialist or centre-right parties had advanced to the run-off stage. (See Bridges Weekly, 27 April 2017)

Macron is a liberal centrist coming from a business background, and a strong supporter of the European Union. He formed his own political party – En Marche! – just 13 months ago after breaking from the current Socialist Party and resigning as economy minister under President François Hollande. His campaign pledges included a 120,000 reduction in public sector jobs, a cut in public spending by €60 billion, and bringing the employment rate down to below seven percent.

European unity

Macron campaigned on a pro-EU platform, stating that he wants to “defend Europe” and “work to rebuild ties between Europe and its citizens.” During his victory speech at the Louvre esplanade, he acknowledged that France is faced with the “immense task” to rebuild European unity, fix the economy, and ensure security against extremist threats.

Macron’s opponent, Le Pen, had campaigned on an anti-globalisation and anti-European platform.

“Europe and the world are waiting for us to defend the spirit of Enlightenment, threatened in so many places,” Macron said on Sunday evening.

His pro-EU platform also comes with the intention of pushing forward this “European project” to the next phase. While campaigning, he called for greater cooperation and integration within the bloc on fiscal, environmental, and social regulation, along with a reform of the way the bloc currently operates, especially in the Eurozone.

Macron has also backed the idea of a “multi-speed” EU, where member states who wish to pursue deeper integration in select areas can do so, even if the whole group does not – an idea that has gained traction in some circles, including among current leadership in Germany, and has been raised as one possible scenario for future EU cooperation by the European Commission.

The French president-elect also promised to push for new fiscal and social rules for the Eurozone to bind its constituent economies closer to help prevent future crises. Furthermore, Macron has advocated for measures such as a new parliamentary assembly of the Eurozone composed of EU and national lawmakers, a Eurozone budget, and a Eurozone finance minister.

Macron has stated that one of his first acts will be to pass domestic labour reforms, particularly in light of today’s significant structural unemployment problems in France. Macron also maintained he will support the three percent deficit rule, required by the EU.

Regarding Brexit, Macron is expected to conduct tough negotiations, having stated that the upcoming talks would be “no walk in the park” for the United Kingdom, though he has also indicated that he wants the EU to keep strong ties with the island nation.

Earlier this year, he reiterated his stance, telling reporters “an exit is an exit,” and that his priorities would be to “protect the interest of French people, and of Europeans.” Furthermore, after meeting with UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May in February, he claimed that “Brexit can’t lead to a kind of optimisation of Great Britain’s relation with the rest of Europe.”

Leaders from the EU 27 have ruled out future UK participation in the single market or preference on a “sector by sector” basis, among various other negotiating stances. (See Bridges Weekly, 4 May 2017)

Leaders from around the globe also came forth to commend Macron on his win. “Happy that the French chose a European future,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said on social media site Twitter. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also tweeted her congratulations, stating Macron’s win was a “victory for a strong united Europe.”

Views on trade

During his campaign, Macron backed trade deals such as the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) that is currently making its way through the ratification process in Canada and at the EU member state level. Nevertheless, he has also called for deeper cooperation and integration within Europe to create a “protective Europe,” including aspects such as an EU mechanism to control foreign takeovers of important industries. 

One major aspect is a tougher position on ensuring a more level playing field on trade, particularly in relation to large exporting nations. Macron has also backed a “Buy European” Act, restricting public procurement in the EU to companies with more than half their production in Europe.

“We have a naïve approach to globalisation,” said Macron in his election policy platform. “Globalisation is a tough fight because not everyone always respects the rules… So we will turn the protection of European industry into one of the major pillars of reinventing the EU.”

Macron has also called for updating the bloc’s trade defence tools, which is a subject that has already been under discussion for months in the EU institutions.

Despite his pro-EU stance, Macron has also criticised the EU for “imperfectly” regulating international competition and not providing “effective and deterring tools to control foreign investments and to punish social, fiscal, and environmental dumping.”

Within the EU, Macron has also called for Germany to curb its trade surplus.

“Germany benefits from the imbalances within the Eurozone and achieves very high trade surpluses,” he said last month. “Those aren’t a good thing either for Germany or for the economy of the Eurozone. There should be a rebalancing.”

Looking forward

While the presidential elections are now over, voting for the legislative assembly will be held next month. To push his agenda forward, Macron will need to prove that he is able to bring together a robust coalition, particularly since his reform plans are likely to field challenges from both mainstream and more extreme parties in France’s deeply divided political climate.

The results of these upcoming elections will have implications on Macron’s ability to achieve policy change, both domestically and on the international stage.

Meanwhile, Macron will formally take office on Sunday 14 May, in time for the new French president to take part in high-level events such as the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy, on 26-27 May, as well as the G20 leaders’ meeting in Hamburg, Germany, in July.

ICTSD reporting; “Emmanuel Macron defeats Le Pen to become French president,” BBC NEWS, 8 May 2017; “Macron v Le Pen: battle of the policies,” FINANCIAL TIMES, 6 May 2017; “Britain views Macron as a “tough” Brexit negotiating partner,” FINANCIAL TIMES, 8 May 2017; “Emmanuel Macron won’t mean business as usual in Brussels,” POLITICO, 3 May 2017; “French election results: Emmanuel Macron says France facing ‘immense task’ to rebuild European unity as he defeats Marine Le Pen,” THE TELEGRAPH, 8 May 2017; “Macron faces an uphill battle from here,” CNN, 7 May 2017; “Macronomics: French front-runner seeks to reinvent EU trade,” POLITICO, 3 May 2017;  “Emmanuel Macron faces massive battle to gain seats in French parliament,” NEWS AU, 8 May 2017; “Emmanuel Macron says German surplus hurts Europe,” POLITICO, 17 April 2017.

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