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Centre ground holds in France

Centre ground holds in France

Macron favourite to win on 7 May

by David Marsh in Washington

Mon 24 Apr 2017

The centre ground has held in France as presidential favourite Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister, emerged yesterday with an unexpectedly strong lead over far-right leader Marine Le Pen ahead of the run-off to choose the French head of state on 7 May. 

In a first-round poll that will be greeted by financial markets and mainstream European politicians, Macron came out on top with around 24% of the vote ahead of Le Pen, the anti-European Union National Front chief. The election has dominated conversations in Washington over the last few days during the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

The confidence-boosting result adds a further gloss to the generally more benign picture of the world economy in recent months, and will damp fears that the US and Europe were being swamped by political uncertainty and support for extremist solutions.

‘A page of France’s political history has been turned,’ an elated Macron declared in Paris last night.

Macron is a comparatively untried 39-year old former Rothschild banker, who has been compared by his more enthusiastic supporters to a mixture of Charles de Gaulle, Joan of Arc and Napoleon Bonaparte. He has enjoyed a meteoric elevation as the preferred candidate of the French political and technocratic elite, and looks near certain to win by a wide margin on 7 May. But, without an established party apparatus other than his newly constituted En Marche! (On the Move) political grouping, Macron will face great hostility within and outside parliament as he tries to assemble a workable reformist programme and reconstitute warmer relations with France’s nervous EU allies, especially Germany.

Macron served François Hollande, the outgoing president, and extremist parties on both the left and right have labelled him as a stooge of the forces that have allegedly run down France’s economic and social fabric in recent years.

The first leg of the presidential election administered a stunning defeat for the two main right and left parties that have dominated France for decades, underlining the dissatisfaction with conventional politics that has been a feature of the French campaign.

François Fillon, a conservative former prime minister whose bid for power was badly undermined by accusations of financial misdeeds, and Benoit Hamon, the socialist candidate, were eliminated in the vote. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a hard-left socialist-turned-communist who surged in the polls in the final weeks of the campaign, won just under 20% of the vote, neck-and-neck with Fillon, eclipsing Hamon with just 6%. 

Macron may face a difficult task in winning sufficient backers in the French parliamentary elections in June, necessitating some kind of delicate political compromise with established centrist and left-wing parties. The most probable outcome is a legislature in which a large, centrist ‘presidential’ bloc supports Macron, but where he could conceivably be held hostage by anti-Macron forces that are likely to form a vocal and disruptive phalanx questioning his legitimacy and fitness to govern.

David Marsh is Managing Director of OMFIF.

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