The chal­lenge ahead for France

Even if Mr. Macron wins Sunday’s elec­tion, the coun­try’s strug­gles will be far from over.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - EDITORIALS

POLLS SHOW­ING that cen­trist Em­manuel Macron will com­fort­ably win the French pres­i­dency in a runoff with far-right­ist Marine Le Pen on Sunday prob­a­bly are more re­as­sur­ing than they should be. First, an up­set is still pos­si­ble: Ms. Le Pen’s vot­ers tend to be more mo­ti­vated than those of Mr. Macron, and many on the French left may stay home, hav­ing judged a neo-fas­cist xeno­phobe and a for­mer in­vest­ment banker to be equally of­fen­sive. Some on the tra­di­tional right may also de­fect to Ms. Le Pen: Shame­fully, Pope Fran­cis and the Catholic Church have de­clined to take a stand against her, de­spite her anti-Mus­lim dem­a­goguery.

More fun­da­men­tally, even a com­fort­able win for Mr. Macron would merely pa­per over the fact that pop­u­lar sup­port for val­ues such as re­li­gious tol­er­ance, and for French par­tic­i­pa­tion in Western in­sti­tu­tions such as the Euro­pean Union and NATO, is alarm­ingly at­ten­u­ated. In the elec­tion’s first round, just short of half of vot­ers chose can­di­dates out­side of that po­lit­i­cal main­stream. Three of the top four were fa­vor­ably in­clined to­ward Vladimir Putin.

If Mr. Macron, a self-de­scribed rad­i­cal cen­trist and un­apolo­getic de­fender of the Euro­pean Union, nev­er­the­less emerges tri­umphant, it will be in part be­cause he man­aged to po­si­tion him­self as an­other out­sider bat­tling the es­tab­lish­ment. Though he served as econ­omy min­is­ter un­der the deeply un­pop­u­lar out­go­ing president, François Hol­lande, Mr. Macron quit and founded his own po­lit­i­cal party a year ago. He has cru­saded against the scle­rotic statism that has mired the French econ­omy in low growth and dou­ble-digit un­em­ploy­ment even as Bri­tain and Ger­many out­per­formed. At 39 years old, he would be the youngest French president; even his mar­riage to a woman 25 years his se­nior makes him ap­pear re­fresh­ingly un­con­ven­tional to some vot­ers.

Mr. Macron’s chal­lenge, if he wins, will be to pro­vide so­lu­tions for those who have ral­lied around Ms. Le Pen, as much as for his own vot­ers. He can­not cater to re­li­gious or racial re­sent­ments, but must be ef­fec­tive in fight­ing ter­ror­ism; he will have to in­crease em­ploy­ment through re­forms of the la­bor code, not by pro­tec­tion­ism or re­stric­tion of im­mi­gra­tion. This will be par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult if his new party fails to win a sub­stan­tial place in Par­lia­ment in leg­isla­tive elec­tions next month. Yet fail­ure would likely make Ms. Le Pen or an­other ex­trem­ist the fa­vorite in the next elec­tion.

In that sense, a Macron vic­tory would of­fer the cur­rent French es­tab­lish­ment, along with the Euro­pean Union, a last chance. The cen­trist cen­ter ap­pears to be hold­ing on the con­ti­nent fol­low­ing Bri­tain’s E.U. exit vote and the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The de­feat of Ms. Le Pen may help con­strain the more rad­i­cal im­pulses of President Trump, who has hinted at his sym­pa­thy for her. But un­less the new govern­ment in France, and one to be elected later this year in Ger­many, can mit­i­gate the neg­a­tive ef­fects of glob­al­iza­tion and make E.U. in­sti­tu­tions more demo­cratic and ac­count­able, the re­prieve may be short-lived.

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