France elects its own version of Trudeau
France has found its own, homegrown Justin Trudeau. French voters on Sunday massively supported political novice Emmanuel Macron as their president for the next five years. His packaging was excellent. His hair, though closecropped, is not bad. Over the next few weeks, France’s people will open the package and find out what they got.
Taking office at age 39, Macron makes the 45-year-old Justin Trudeau look like an elder statesman. He arrives as the articulate, brainy, highly educated figurehead for a new generation. He seems inclined to sweep some old cobwebs out of French law, politics and economic structure, if he gets the chance. Unlike Trudeau, he was never a drama teacher, but his wife was — that was how they met when he was her pupil. Unlike Trudeau, he does not lead a political party — but he must now create one quickly to present candidates for the National Assembly elections in June.
When he formally takes office on Sunday, Macron will appoint a prime minister and a cabinet. His choices may show the country how wide he will spread his arms in pulling together the country’s political factions. He may reach into the ranks of the established parties whose candidates he trounced in the presidential election — or he may ignore them altogether and choose technocrats of his own non-partisan ilk.
In the following days, the new president must complete the list of candidates he will present as his supporters in the June legislative elections. The list may show whether Macron is a new broom sweeping out the old generation of French politicians, or whether he is just a new driver on the same old bus.
Macron garnered 66 per cent of the vote in the presidential runoff. He won strong support among the young, the urban and the highly educated and those who want to keep France in the European Union. Marine Le Pen of the National Front garnered the other 34 per cent, especially from farmers and older workers who cling to the privileges conferred on them by France’s rigid industrial structure, and from the unemployed who feel ill-served by globalization. The National Front remains a significant presence in French politics, but its anti-Europe, anti-foreigner discourse has been decisively rejected.
The old-line parties of the left, the centre and the right lie in ruins. If the National Front appears to pose a genuine threat to France’s participation in the European Union, supporters of the old parties may stick with Macron. If the legislative elections reduce the National Front once again to an annoying fringe party, they may feel free to return to their old communist, socialist or republican loyalties.
Canadians can enjoy watching how far Macron follows Trudeau’s footsteps. Will his cabinet be half-male, half-female — because it’s 2017? Will he reach out to Ivanka Trump, for want of common cause with her father? Will he cast himself as the champion of the middle class and those working hard to join it? Or will he gradually come to resemble the old fogeys he replaced? Macron