The 5 key problems facing the new French President Macron

Macron faces problems of political polarisation, economic crisis and mass opposition to his policies 

EMMANUEL MACRON has won the French Presidency, defeating his second round far right opponent Marine Le Pen by 66 to 34 per cent.

However, the country is slipping deeper into a crisis of economic decline and political polarisation, marked by mass street movements.

CommonSpace looks at the major obstacles now faced by Macron.

1. The French crisis

The backdrop to the entire election was how to solve France’s severe economic problems. Low growth, the structural decline in industry and the best part a decade of mass unemployment have marginalised the traditional mainstream parties in France.

Unemployment hovers around 10 per cent, and growth currently rests around 1 per cent, years into recovery from the global recession. 

During the election, Macron made promises to ‘reform’ the French economy and society. These reforms involve substantial cuts to the public sector, an end to some protections for working class people, and political reforms aimed at disciplining a society which has erupted in mass opposition to reforms repeatedly over the last decade – such a mandatory period of national service.

2. A disgruntled public

The Nuit debout movement, lasting throughout much of 2016, saw mass demonstrations of French youth and workers and widespread rioting against reforms to Labour laws. It was only one of many such movements in France in recent years.

This is the background against which Macron fought the election calling for reforms, and Le Pen fought a campaign against the effects of globalisation alongside demands to slash immigration and restrict the rights of religious minorities.

Before the second round votes, thousands protested against what they saw as a limited choice. 4.2 million spoiled their ballot and 12 million abstained from voting altogether.

Regardless of the abstentions, Macron won a very large proportion of the vote. However, he has no way of knowing whether his anti-Le Pen vote will translate into a vote for him and the generally unpopular reform platform.

An Ipsos Mori poll has found that 6 million Macron voters do not want Macron’s En Marche party to form a majority in the coming assembly elections on 11 and 18 June.

3. Turning a movement into power

One of the features of the 2017 Presidential Election has been the emergence of mass membership quasi-parties.

These include Macron’s En Marche and the radical left Le France Insoumise, led by Jean-Luc Melenchon.

En March permits membership of rival parties, and En Marche membership is a paper affair – not requiring payment or other responsibilities. Translating this low-commitment enthusiasm into a governing party, requiring discipline to survive years of gruelling government will take some doing.

Macron is re-organising the campaign to seek a majority of seats in next month’s National Assembly (similar to the House of Commons) elections.

He has hinted he will bring in personalities with extensive political experience to help him form a lasting government. But this will be a balancing act, the more experience he brings on the more he tarnishes his ‘outsider’ image.

4. Political polarisation

French politics has never been more polarised between left and right, and the election of someone who insists on his centralist politics is a result, not a repudiation of this. The radical left of Melenchon and the far right represented by Le Pen helped to undermine the traditional centre-right and centre-left parties.

Caught between the two forces of left and right, Macron immediately wasted no time in attacking both the left and the right upon coming to power. He is already worried about his ability to form a sufficiently large and durable majority across France’s institutions.

5. Restructuring the EU

Macron is known for his pro-EU stance. He wants further integration of the block, including a common fiscal policy and banking integration. He has pledged to reform the French economy to encourage this process.

However, he also calls for reform to the EU in order to help it survive the most tumultuous period in its history, including measures that he hopes would balance benefits from the project across countries besides Germany, principally, of course, France. But making cuts in France to ease a new direction for the EU could prove a risky strategy, particularly in a country where the EU is becoming increasingly controversial.

Picture courtesy Jeso Carneiro

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