The Center Holds
Six things you need to know about Emmanuel Macron and the future of France.
By Phillip Bugajski, Loyola University Chicago
After the run-off election on Sunday, France has decided that Emmanuel Macron, not Marine Le Pen, will be the president of France for the next five years.
However, because the news media in the U.S. rarely covers anything outside of its own borders, some of you may be asking what it means that Macron won, and what does he stand for? What does it mean for the U.S. in terms of relations with France? Here are the answers to at least some of your questions.
1. How Did the Election Work?
The original round of voting for the next French president was held on April 13, 2017, among a total of eleven candidates. However, no candidate from any party, ranging from the National Front (very conservative) to the Socialist party received a majority.
Therefore, it was necessary for the French election to go into a second round of voting. France’s electoral system, when electing the president, uses a form of “run-off elections,” or “second-round voting.” What this means is that the two candidates with the highest number of votes, in this case Emmanuel Macron, with 24 percent of the vote, and Marine Le Pen, with roughly 21 percent. These candidates were the only ones to move on to the second round of voting.
All of the other candidates were eliminated from the election, meaning that the people who voted for them either had to choose a candidate that they preferred, or not vote at all. The second election was held on May 7, 2017, with Macron winning about two-thirds of the vote, and Le Pen winning the last third.
After the second election, Macron was elected as president, and he will take office on May 14, 2017. He will serve for a five-year term, after Francois Hollande. After the election, of course, is when things will get interesting.
2. Who Is Emmanuel Macron?
Macron has a steady background in politics, formerly serving as the Minister of the Economy and Finance, while working on the staff of Former President Hollande.
Acting as the Minister of Finance before he resigned in 2016, Macron had direct oversight of the legislation of new taxes, as well as the usage of national funds for government control of certain parts of the economy. Macron resigned from Hollande’s staff in 2016 in order to make his presidential bid under his own independent party, “En Marche!” in the 2017 election.
Before serving under President Hollande, Macron was a member of the Socialist Party in France from 2006 to 2009, during which time he was considered a centrist among his peers, seeking a free market to lift the burdens of debt in France, and in the global economy. He formed his own party, refusing to agree with the key policies of the Socialist party.
3. What Does It Mean to be a Centrist?
Being a centrist falls within the territory of Neoliberalism. Macron and other centrists in France see a free market, and the continued exchange of goods, services and capital, as ways to increase the wealth of all nations involved.
Instead of having a protectionist economy to foster France’s national industry, such as his opponent, Marine Le Pen suggested, centrists believe that it is precisely the fact that trade can be conducted on a global scale that allows materials and finished products to be traded back and forth so readily. They believe this leads not only to the development of the economy, but also to the exchange of technology and ideas with trade.
Macron has personally claimed that he seeks to surpass, as part of his political affiliation, the traditional divide between left and right-leaning parties, in order to unify France and stop any political roadblocks in the way of meaningful reform.
4. What Has Macron Proposed?
One of the main issues in European politics in the past year has been the support of the European Union (EU), especially after the events of Brexit in summer 2016.
Unlike his opponent Le Pen, Macron supports a stronger European Union, by establishing a permanent headquarters and a ministry to oversee the Eurozone, the field of countries using the Euro as currency and regulating that area.
As one of the most important economies in the European Union, France’s position for support or disavowal of the EU holds tremendous weight. Macron has shown his opinions, similar to those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who supports stronger legal and economic ties among nations in the EU.
Macron is also a supporter of NATO, and he claims that France is committed to its position within the global-defense organization. As president, he seeks to increase government spending in the areas of economic revitalization, in order to increase the number of job-training programs in France. His plan would see about fifty billion euros invested in these programs.
Macron also seeks to use public funds for further investment in public healthcare, public education and defense-spending, which he would increase to about 2 percent of France’s GDP by 2025. This would be a notable increase, yet nowhere near what other nations spend on their military budgets, dollar per dollar.
On immigration, Macron does not oppose allowing more refugees, particularly those from Syria, into France, but he seeks to install more French fluency courses for those who enter, and up to a six-month process for those seeking permanent residence. Compared to the policies of Marine Le Pen, who called for a near shutdown of French immigration, Macron’s policies toward immigrants are more open and relaxed.
However, due to the large influx of religious refugees, Macron has made it a priority to instruct religious leaders of a specific tenet of French society and constitutional law, secularism or “laïcite.” This concept states that France shall make no law preferring one religion over another, or seeking to establish a state religion. Macron says, “No religion is an issue,” but the concepts of secularism are crucial to present French life.
An increase in global trade, yet more government oversight, can adequately define Macron’s platform for the 2017 election.
5. What Can the French President Do?
Overall, the French president has responsibilities similar to the U.S. president. While the French Parliament and the Prime Minister see to the day-to-day operation of the government and the passage of legislation, the president appoints the prime minister and can suggest that treaties or acts of legislation be subject to referendum or popular vote among the French people.
In addition, the French president is the commander-in-chief of French forces, and he can order the use of nuclear weapons. On the diplomatic end of foreign relations, the president negotiates treaties as well as receives foreign ambassadors.
In a parliamentary system, the French president can dissolve the French National Assembly, with the consent of the Prime Minister, in the case of legislation stalemates, and he can order special legislative elections to replace the assembly. This option is rarely ever used, yet it remains a potent power of the president.
6. What Does This Mean for the U.S.?
Overall, the U.S. does not have to worry about strained diplomatic relations, or trade being significantly affected by the election of Macron to the highest office in France. It may be an oversimplification, but Macron stood for many of the things that Hillary Clinton stood for in the U.S. election, and the U.S. as a whole is similar in policies to France.
France is not going to close its borders, nor will it devolve into a communistic regime. Relations between France and the U.S. will remain stable, especially with a president committed to upholding the authority of the European Union.
The U.S. will continue to have a strong foreign-policy ally in many ways with France, both in sanctions, military action and a general commitment to democracy and governance. Sometimes, in global politics, that is all you can ask for.