World

Don't crow over Macron win

Whatever happens on Sunday, Marine Le Pen will remain a force to be reckoned with


After the success of Mr Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the French presidential election, markets around the world rallied strongly.

The centrist candidate who has pledged to radically reform the French economy took 24 per cent of the votes and is predicted to win the final round on May 7 with support from 60 per cent of the electorate.

But a Macron victory will not automatically end the long wait for a genuine turn-up in France's economic and social fortunes.

The past 12 months of politics in the United States and United Kingdom have taught us to look out for the unorthodox.

Mr Macron's rival Marine Le Pen of the National Front, who has bizarrely stepped down temporarily as party leader in an attempt to widen support, represents the extreme right but her politics should not affect our judgment.

She polled 21 per cent in the first round, ensuring neither of France's two established parties on the right and left made it through to the run-off.

Ms Le Pen is expected to trail on Sunday, handicapped by a general "anyone but Le Pen" campaign that saw her father Jean-Marie defeated by an overwhelming 82 to 18 per cent against former president Jacques Chirac in the run-off presidential vote in 2002.

His daughter is expected to lose by a much smaller margin this time round.

Over the weekend, she sought to further bolster her support by downgrading her euro departure policy. She said that the priority would be to organise, over 18 months, a coordinated return to national currencies in the eurozone. She had previously set a six-month deadline.

National Front will gain seats in the parliamentary elections in June. Even in France's centralised system that gives the president immense powers, the far right will have sufficient nuisance value to represent a source of risk and disruption for a president Macron.

Votes for Mr Macron and the defeated mainstream Socialist and centre-right candidates on April 23 added up to just 50 per cent. Ms Le Pen plus the far-left contender came to 41 per cent.

The crucial difference between the two presidential rivals is that Mr Macron does not have a political party of any size. He founded and leads En Marche! (On the move).

One could say that he became a leader first and then recruited a party. His members are mainly young metropolitans.

Ms Le Pen, on the other hand, has a big party with a country-wide organisation. The National Front has fought many elections and will have prepared for the second round.

Mr Macron wants to take France in the direction of a more liberal, market-friendly economy. This may please the markets but not the people.

The outgoing President François Hollande's labour market reforms have been bitterly fought by his supposed friends from the trade unions.

Mr Macron is from the establishment: a banker and former economy minister with a pro-Europe mindset. He will be seen as a young elitist candidate.

Ms Le Pen will chime with the idea of French pride, reluctance to reform and a tendency to blame outsiders for France's problems rather than impose any hardship. She is not metropolitan and the majority of French are not either.

Whatever happens on Sunday, Ms Le Pen will remain a potent force. We should not crow too loudly over a Macron win.


The writer is emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and chairman of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum Advisers Network (https://www.omfif.org). This article was published in The Business Times yesterday.

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