Emmanuel Macron’s hard work starts now

“Dear friends we must also be careful and respectful because our country is full of division … therefore we must be strong. No one will be left by the wayside,” he said.

France, like many western democracies, is bearing witness to the destructive social forces unleashed by populist politicians from the fringes. It is a nation whose fault lines – economic, geographic and generational – run deeper than ever.

Defeated: French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.Credit:AP

They are turbo-charged by social media and a fragmented media market where political parties are adopted like football teams and loyalty is sworn to policies just like team colours.

Since her trouncing in 2017, Le Pen added disenfranchised blue-collar workers and young families struggling to keep their heads above water to her hard-core far-right base.

And the promise Macron made five years ago – to bring the people together rather than feed hate and demagoguery – must still be his aim. It is a journey not a destination after all.


In 2017 Macron stunned the nation when, aged 39, he became France’s youngest leader since Napoleon by demolishing the established post-war political parties only a year after setting up his own, now called La République En Marche.

He has been by any objective view a good leader for France. He set out to transform through a big agenda. Domestically he overhauled the labour market, making hiring and firing easier, and by doing so, unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in 13 years – from 10 per cent to 7.4 per cent. It’s just shy of the ambitious target of 7 per cent set in his original manifesto.

He is also viewed to have reduced corruption through his “moralisation of politics” law where, among other things, he stopped politicians hiring relatives or spending cash handouts as they chose.

Macron’s first term was hit by turbulence through two major external crises – the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – but at home he had to wrestle with terror attacks, the longest French strike since May 1968 and the yellow jackets protests against his policies.

And while when he was elected his appeal was the freshness of his personality and his “outsider” qualities, he entered this contest viewed as the establishment. The radical left and far-right loath him. Even his most strident supporters would say the past five years haven’t been perfect.

His team was shaken by bad polls just a few weeks ago when he had only bothered to hold one election rally, instead telling voters he was preoccupied with Ukraine.

He’s spent months promising enormous state spending on schools, security, energy and defence and in the past week by appealing to the green vote by spruiking action on climate change.

But Macron’s record doesn’t really enthuse climate campaigners. His biggest advantage was that he was running against a right-wing nationalist who denounced net zero targets and pledged to dismantle wind farms and place a moratorium on new wind and solar power.

And while appearing at COP26 and a series of major summits as a climate warrior, successive assessments have shown that France isn’t reducing greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to meet its objectives under the Paris climate agreement.

Like much of the world, Macron now faces a cost of living crisis which has been weaponised with great effect by his rival. His proposed pension reforms – lifting retirement age to 65 – look shaky and there remains many unknown unknowns including the war and the pandemic.

Macron’s victory should not be misunderstood as an endorsement of him but a rejection of what else was on offer.

And now he must get to work on the global stage, as the undisputed leader of Europe, to ensure it remains united against Russian aggression and weans itself off Putin’s oil and gas.

Domestically he must also remember that sooner or later, if sensible people who promise change don’t deliver it, then they will be discarded for any old snake oil salesman, or woman, who promises to throw out the old guard and start all over again.

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