Emmanuel Macron opened up his French Presidency with an act that further disillusioned the 33.1% of people who voted for Marine Le Pen; he walked over to The Louvre to ‘Ode to joy’, the European Union’s anthem. It was a move that divided the country after Macron promised to unite it. It was a move that cannot be underestimated, as it outlined the main intention for France- closer EU integration. Macron’s ambition to cement France next to Germany as the leading force within the EU will be challenging; it will also be met with fierce domestic opposition. If Macron fails to get a significant number of seats in parliament this June, his Presidency could stall before it starts.
Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande, left office with approval ratings of 4%. A number of reasons collectively explain why this is the case, however the economy stands out as the primary cause for concern. Whilst French citizens do enjoy a relatively high standard of living, there is not much else to cheer for. France’s economic problems, much like the Eurozone’s, are long term and possess deep roots that will be hard to weed out. Three million people in France are currently unemployed; the country boasts a 10.1% unemployment rate, which is the sixth highest in the Eurozone. The only other countries that have higher unemployment levels than France are Greece (32.5%), Spain (18.2%), Cyprus (12.5%), Italy (11.7%) and Croatia (11.3%). Greece and Spain have been devastated by crises on top of the 2008 global financial crash, hence why their economies still rank amongst the worst in Europe. For perspective, the Eurozone’s average unemployment was 9.5% in March 2017; Germany, Europe’s leading economic powerhouse, has unemployment levels of 3.9%. The 6.2% difference between France and Germany’s unemployment is staggering considering France is a major contributor to the EU.
The staggering unemployment difference between France and Germany is not the only inequality between the two countries. Germany’s colossal trading surplus, which currently stands at €25.4 billion, dwarfs France’s trading deficit of €5.4 billion. In 2015, The Economist published an article outlining how Germany’s gigantic trading surplus was harming the Eurozone and themselves. The summarise, The Economist argues that Germany’s economic success masks vital policy flaws, such as the demands laid out to troubled countries in the Eurozone. Greece is a prime example, as Germany demanded that the Greeks cut spending and borrowing along with structurally reforming their economy. Another policy flaw from the Germans is the austerity measures they currently employ. The Economist emphasises the importance on borrowing and investing more in infrastructure and domestic needs given the low interest rates and their advantageous trading situation. Doing this would also provide a Keynesian stimulus to the Eurozone; in turn, this would help countries such as France and other struggling economies.
Macron’s vision for France
Since being elected as President of France, Macron has rebranded his party; what was formerly known as ‘En Marche’ is now titled ‘La Republique en Marche’. His party should gain a majority in the June election, however the extent of the majority he should gain is not clear. Having previously held office as Hollande’s economy minister from 2014-2016, his policies are modelled around reviving a stagnant economy. Macron’s aims are, by traditional political standards, very mix-and-match. Having said this, Macron is no traditional candidate. The new President wants to reform the labour market through a proposed introduction of flexibility around labour rights and rules. His flagship promise to cut corporation tax to 25%- from 33.3%- is designed around making Paris a thriving business hub. His promise to not help failing businesses couples nicely with his policy to help people made redundant. With these policies, Macron aims to stimulate the economy, with unemployment dropping down 3.1%- to 7%- by 2022.
Arguably the biggest issue facing the French people in the election was the European Union. Macron is a passionate lover of the EU and preached of a more closely integrated Europe with France being a key role player. It is undeniable that Macron and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, have a lot of common ground. However, during the latter stages of his election campaign, Macron acknowledged the anti-EU sentiment shared by many Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (who achieved 19.64% of the first round vote) supporters. Merkel may find that Macron has a sharp bite as he has boldly proclaimed that the EU needs reform if the problems in France are to be addressed. He has previously stated that Germany’s huge trade surplus must be rebalanced to help share responsibility; Macron envisions a closer Europe where he would give the Eurozone its own budget, its own finance minister and a parliament of MEPs.
Merkel might not like what she sees after all when the time approaches for negotiations with Macron about a potential reform of the EU. Macron’s vision is rather different from Merkel’s; Germany prefers an ever expanding union, evidenced by the considerable amount of countries who have joined the EU since 2004 and the number of countries currently queuing up to join- including Turkey. Negotiating with the EU can be nearly impossible, just ask David Cameron. It remains to be seen how much Macron will be able affect the future of Europe, or if he will be able to affect it at all. Macron is wise to call for a reform of the EU, it is clear that it is not working for the majority of Europeans; another statistic to prove this is that nearly one in four French citizens under the age of 25 are currently unemployed. If Macron fails to succeed in reforming the EU in, we could see an even larger crowd supporting a Frexit movement come 2022.
Marine Le Pen- what now?
Marine Le Pen will play an important role in French politics over the next five years; she has solidified the Front National as a mainstream political party who should be around for the foreseeable future. Since Marine took over as leader in 2011, she has worked tirelessly to shed the party of its anti-Semitic image from her father, Jean- Marie Le Pen. Her rebranding efforts have evidently worked as she secured 33.1% of the vote, which dwarfed her father’s 17.8% vote share back in 2002- the last time the FN reached the second round of the Presidential election.
Marine’s niece, Marion Maréchal- Le Pen, quit politics after the FN defeat a couple of weeks ago. Marion was widely tipped to succeed her aunt as the leader of the FN, but with Marion no longer in the picture, Marine can now fully press ahead with her rebranding of the FN. After conceding the election, Marine was already looking towards the future with her admitting “The National Front must also renew itself.” Marine also promised to create a “number one opposition force.” The transformation, in which we saw a glimpse of in the build up to the election, will likely include a shift inside from the far-right; this will be an attempt to catch a larger group of voters. With her left wing economic policies and her anti-EU stance, she is putting herself in the prime position to take over from the Socialist Party as the champion of forgotten France and the working class.
Marine will play a pivotal role in the reform, or eventual collapse, of the EU. Her pressure on President Macron to press ahead with a reform that benefits France and the rest of the Eurozone will be a cornerstone of European politics for years to come. For Macron, he will have to show the rest of Europe that his new economic style provides results before he can really push Germany and the EU for substantial reform.
No matter what happens over the next five years, France is in for an eventful time- but who said that’s a bad thing?