Monday 8 May
France’s new president has Britain in his sights as he aims to restart a long tradition of European hegemony.
Where French tyrant Napoleon Bonaparte failed to forge a European Empire, newly elected and similarly vertically challenged President, Emmanuel Macron hopes to succeed. While the liberal elite joined in a collective sigh of relief last night, they along with the rest of us need to consider the worrying consequences of Mr Macron’s remarkable victory.
With 99.99% of votes counted the former investment banker’s majority over his opponent in Sunday’s second round run-off, Marine le Pen stands at 66.06% to 33.94%. Turnout was 2% lower than in the second round with abstentions reaching 25.38%. The last time voters were so apathetic was in 1969 at the height of France’s post-war malaise, just a year after the May 68 riots. A record 12% of ballots were spoiled. For a candidate from a controversial party, as Le Pen is, to secure a third of the votes is significant, that taken alongside the large number of spoiled ballots points at a deeply divided society.
Simmering tensions are more likely than not to boil over by 2022 when Mr Le Pen is expected to run for the Presidency once again. By then, Le Pen’s party, the Front National is expected to have undergone a radical image change to capitalise on a disgruntled youth ravaged by low unemployment – 44% of young people voted for France’s iron lady.
As for the here and now and we in the United Kingdom, with Bonapartesque zeal EU-fanatic Macron has pledged to make an example of Britain as it exits the failing bloc. While he has attempted to play down his intentions, he has previously stated his desire for the UK to “lose” out from Brexit.
— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) May 7, 2017
Macron’s route to the Élysée Palace as an independent candidate in his first run for elected office may look remarkable, but his establishment credentials are rock solid. Until a year ago, when he launched the party bearing his initials, En Marche! He was still serving as the ruling Socialist Party’s minister for the Economy.
This was not a case of being brought in to plug a gap in the cabinet, Macron was parachuted from Francois Hollande’s inner circle to support the Prime Minister, fellow centrist Manuel Valls, in reviving a flagging economy through drastic labour reforms. Before joining the government Mr Macron was accumulating piles of cash for him and other members’ of the French elite in investment banking. He is also a graduate of ENA, the super exclusive institute that has produced all but two of the Fifth Republic’s Presidents. Macron defenders in the UK will argue Oxford and Cambridge fulfil the same function. The comparison is hardly appropriate, ENA’s student population is less than 600 compared to ‘Oxbridge’s’ 43,000. John Major, for all his sins, did not go to university at all.
Macron’s time at ENA and the corridors of power he has inhabited his whole career, at the French Civil Service, at Rothschild’s Bank, and in Holland’s government, has put him in regular contact with the cream of the French establishment, enabling him to build a powerful support base across all sectors, including the media. Once moderate Right wing candidate François Fillon’s chances had been wiped out by a scandal involving fake jobs for family members, the 39 year-old-was totally unopposed in the media-friendly political centre ground. Press and TV accordingly gave him all the attention they could.
The new President is being lorded over by his friends in the media as a technocrat – during a visit a Q&A for French expats in London at the height of the campaign he was distracted for more than an hour answering just one question on the deepest legal complexities of Brexit. Whether he has the political nouse to get his reforms through is another matter. Certainly, as a minister for the economy, he hardly shook the earth. Nevertheless, Macron is the great white hope for both France’s long-awaited economic revival and Europhiles still in a state of panic following the referendum and Trump’s rise to the White House.
Macron’s friends in Paris’s sluggish financial sector are desperate to steal business from London after Britain leaves the Single Market and the new man is more than happy to oblige. Standing on the steps of Downing Street he had the cheek to pledge his intention to make life difficult for Britain’s financial institutions.
Nigel Farage was right to back Le Pen. Virtually any enemy of the EU is an ally of the UK at this present point in time. Macron, by contrast, has a made a virtue of being pro-EU to French voters, further dividing the French electorate – 20 percent of French voters describe themselves as politically extreme, evenly split between the far right and far left, the EU average is 7 percent. Much like Napoleon, Macron will stake his reputation on reviving flagging ambitions towards a European Empire. Let us hope he meets his Waterloo.