That was quite some statement. For a freshly-minted President of France to reject the Marseillaise, and instead walk onto the stage to the sounds of the EU’s anthem Ode to Joy will set the tone of Emmanuel Macron’s Presidency. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and this was as bold as you get.
Macron seems to pride himself on being the ‘un-populist’. The French are almost as Eurosceptic as the British and hate the idea of liberal reforms to their economy, so what does he offer them? Reform and Europe. And then he goes and wins with a massive majority.
You have got to hand it to the man. He believes this stuff has to be done, so rather than make improbable promises and pretend that there are easy solutions to complex problems, he wins himself a mandate by confronting the populists head on. This may be the key lesson for traditional, progressive, pro-EU centrists everywhere.
Leaders can make the political weather, especially in their early days in office, and Macron will know he now has to move quickly. He currently has zero MPs in the French Parliament, but there are elections next month in which his new party En Marche! will need to win a lot of seats, and then persuade moderate deputies from the traditional parties to back his agenda.
Hardest of all, he must persuade Berlin to ease up on austerity and give the Eurozone a fresh lease of life. With Angela Merkel up for re-election herself in September, that may have to wait a few months, but she was the first person he spoke to after the results were announced, and what’s more, she owes him.
If Marine Le Pen had won last night, the EU itself would have been in mortal danger. Instead it has a new champion, and Europe’s leaders know they have dodged a bullet, making Macron hugely influential as the EU tries to relaunch and reinvigorate itself post-Brexit.
He may not even be as tough on Brexit as he liked to make out during the campaign. Macron was France’s economy minister during David Cameron’s efforts to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership, and some on the UK team say he was one of the most practical and pragmatic they dealt with. Key advisers in the Macron camp have been advocating a new ‘Continental Partnership’ to keep Brexit Britain fully engaged.
As for the far-right, is this the end of the road for the Le Pens? Despite Marine winning 11 million votes, doubling her party’s haul from 15 years ago, the result last night was below expectations and there is talk of her leadership being challenged.
But even if she was deposed, there’s another scion of the Le Pen dynasty waiting in the wings - Marion Maréchal-Le Pen who is young, eloquent, photogenic, already an MP and every bit as right-wing as her aunt Marine. This is a family that have now fought 7 Presidential elections and seem unlikely to stop now.
- This article also runs in The Evening Standard tonight