MACRON AND

His vic­tory shows France is not a coun­try where anti-Euro­pean jin­go­ism and racism can win an elec­tion

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is an Op-Ed columnist for ‘In­ter­na­tional New York Times’, and writes about in­ter­na­tional af­fairs and diplo­macy

IT’S not just that Em­manuel Macron won and will be­come, at age 39, France’s youngest pres­i­dent. It’s not merely that he de­feated, in Marine Le Pen, the forces of xeno­pho­bic na­tion­al­ism ex­ploited by United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. It’s that he won with a bold stand for the much-ma­ligned Euro­pean Union, and so reaf­firmed the Euro­pean idea and Europe’s place in a world that needs its strength and val­ues.

This, af­ter Bri­tain’s dis­mal de­ci­sion last year to leave the Euro­pean Union, and in the face of Trump’s woe­ful anti-Euro­pean ig­no­rance, was crit­i­cal. Macron un­der­lined his mes­sage by com­ing out to ad­dress his sup­port­ers in Paris ac­com­pa­nied by the Euro­pean an­them, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, rather than the Mar­seil­laise — a pow­er­ful ges­ture of open­ness.

A Le Pen-led lurch into a Europe of na­tion­al­ism and racism has been averted. Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of Rus­sian backed Le Pen for a rea­son — he wants to break down Euro­pean unity and sever the Euro­pean bond with the US. In­stead, the cen­tre held and, with it, civil­i­sa­tion.

A fed­er­al­is­ing Europe is the foun­da­tion of Euro­pean post-war sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity. It of­fers the best chance for young Euro­peans to ful­fil their prom­ise. It is Euro­peans’ “com­mon des­tiny”, as Macron puts it in his ac­cep­tance speech, stand­ing be­fore the French and Euro­pean Union flags. To think oth­er­wise is to for­get his­tory. No won­der Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, through her spokesman, im­me­di­ately pro­claimed a vic­tory “for a strong and united Europe”.

That will re­quire re­form. Europe, com­pla­cent, has lost trac­tion. Macron recog­nised this. He de­clared: “I want to re-weave the bond be­tween citizens and Europe.”

More trans­parency, more ac­count­abil­ity and more cre­ativ­ity are re­quired. No mir­a­cle ever mar­keted it­self more mis­er­ably than the Euro­pean Union.

Macron, who came from nowhere in the space of a year as the head of a new po­lit­i­cal move­ment, did not make facile prom­ises or make up sto­ries. He stood by refugees; he stood by Europe’s shared cur­rency, the euro, and he was pre­pared to tell the French that they can­not turn their back on moder­nity and pros­per.

Through ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ment, he in­creased a lead over Le Pen that polls put at 20 per cent af­ter the first round two weeks ago to 30 per cent, win­ning with 66 per cent of the vote to Le Pen’s 34 per cent. This, in the age of Trump’s fake news, fake claims, and over­all fak­e­ness, was an im­por­tant demon­stra­tion that rea­son and co­her­ence still mat­ter in pol­i­tics.

Now, the hard part be­gins. For the first time in France, the far right took more than a third of the vote, a re­flec­tion of the anger in the coun­try at lost jobs, failed im­mi­grant in­te­gra­tion and eco­nomic stag­na­tion. Macron, who said he was aware of “the anger, the anx­i­ety, the doubts” needs to ad­dress this so­cial un­ease headon by re­viv­ing a sense of pos­si­bil­ity in France. With­out change, Le Pen will con­tinue to gain sup­port.

Change is no­to­ri­ously hard to fash­ion in France. It is a coun­try fiercely at­tached to the “ac­quis,” or ac­quired rights, en­shrined in its com­pre­hen­sive wel­fare state. Many have tried. Many have failed.

It is es­pe­cially hard with­out strong par­lia­men­tary back­ing, and Macron will need that. Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions will be held next month. His En Marche! (On­ward!) move­ment must or­gan­ise fast to build on his vic­tory. It has ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­men­tum. The tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal land­scape of the Fifth Repub­lic — the al­ter­na­tion of cen­tre-left So­cial­ists and cen­tre-right Repub­li­cans — has been blown apart.

Per­haps this very feat, with­out par­al­lel in re­cent Euro­pean po­lit­i­cal his­tory, and Macron’s sta­tus as a cen­trist in­de­pen­dent give him unique lat­i­tude to per­suade the French, at last, that they can — like the Ger­mans and the Dutch and the Swedes and the Danes — pre­serve the essence of their wel­fare state while forg­ing a more flex­i­ble labour mar­ket that gives hope to the young. With 25 per cent of its youth un­em­ployed, France un­does it­self.

If France grows again, Europe will grow with it. This would con­sti­tute a pow­er­ful re­buke to the au­to­cratic-na­tion­al­ist school — Le Pen with her sham of a po­lit­i­cal makeover, the xeno­pho­bic buf­foon Nigel Farage in Bri­tain (friend of Trump), Putin in Moscow, and of course, the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent him­self, whose ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity on the sub­ject of Amer­ica’s Euro­pean al­lies has been ap­palling.

Macron’s is a vic­tory for many things. He has demon­strated that France is not a coun­try where racism and anti-Euro­pean jin­go­ism can win an elec­tion. He has re­asserted the Euro­pean idea and raised the pos­si­bil­ity that France and Ger­many will con­jure a re­vival of Euro­pean ide­al­ism. He has re­buked the lit­tle Eng­lan­ders who voted to take Bri­tain out of the Union (and made a tough ne­go­ti­a­tion on that exit in­evitable).

Above all, through his in­tel­li­gence and ci­vil­ity, his cul­ture and open­ness, Macron has erected a much-needed bar­rier to the crass­ness and in­ci­vil­ity, the ig­no­rance and the closed-mind­ed­ness that seeps from Trump’s Oval Of­fice and threat­ens to cor­rupt the con­duct of world af­fairs.

Vive la France! Vive l’Europe! Now more than ever. NYT

French pres­i­dent-elect Em­manuel Macron wav­ing to sup­port­ers on Sun­day, af­ter his vic­tory.

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