Macron's Challenge France's New Leader Must Restore Confidence

With the support of almost two-thirds of French voters, Emmanuel Macron has been elected as France's youngest president ever. He now has the chance to modernize his country -- and save Europe.

French president-elect Emmanuel Macron

French president-elect Emmanuel Macron

A Commentary by in Paris

He did it. Emmanuel Macron's election heralds the start of a new era -- for French politics and for France. And if he is able to push through all the things he has said he would like to achieve, it might also mark a new era for a crisis-riddled Europe that badly needs a taste of success and a morsel of appeal.

For now, he has achieved the unprecedented. At 39, he is about to become the youngest French president ever in the Fifth Republic. In fact, he will be the youngest French leader since Napoleon Bonaparte. Even Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was almost 10 years older at the time he became president.

And perhaps the greatest novelty of all is that Macron isn't a member of either of France's two main parties, the Socialist Party or the Republicans.

What is happening in France is not just a generational shift -- it's an upheaval of a political world that had been in place in the country for decades.

Both the rejuvenation and the renewal should be celebrated. More than 21 million French voters chose Macron, casting their ballots for an open and receptive France rooted in Europe. They didn't allow themselves to be led astray -- not by the Brits turning their backs on Europe, not by Donald Trump and not by the promises of Marine Le Pen. With 11 million votes, Front National did manage to win more votes in a presidential election than ever before. But it still suffered a resounding defeat.

More importantly, Macron scored a clear victory, providing this young president with the legitimacy he needs to implement the pledges he has made for France's renewal.

Macron isn't even 40 yet, and the movement he founded is just one year old. Early on, many laughed at En Marche!, dismissing it as a "startup" from an overly ambitious economics minister. He raised the eyebrows of his fellow cabinet ministers because his enthusiasm and ambition often got on their nerves. They thought he was too young, too inexperienced, too presumptuous and too hungry. He is also very open about what he wants and is openly critical when things weren't going well. Reform plans, a legislative process, anti-terror measures: He was polite in his critique, but loud and clear.

An Anomaly in Politics

And he wouldn't relent. Even when his superiors, be it the prime minister or the president, bullied him like a schoolboy, he stayed true to his convictions. From the very beginning, Macron was an anomaly in politics.

But president? No one believed he would get this far. Even after he resigned from the cabinet and announced his candidacy, it was still quite some time before pollsters even included him in their surveys.

Ultimately, during the long weeks of this incredible campaign, it fell to him to defend, or even save, the French republic. The others, the old-school establishment, failed spectacularly. With Macron's election, a campaign that could hardly be topped in terms of its suspense and ruthlessness has come to an end. And the results are surprisingly good.

What hasn't changed, however, is the enormity of the job facing Macron. "It is a great honor and a great responsibility," were the first words uttered by Macron after his election on Sunday night. He looked as though he was in an almost hypnotized state as he spoke. "I will do all I can to be worthy of your trust and confidence," he told the country he now leads, sounding humble by his standards.

Now, though, with parliamentary elections scheduled for the beginning of June, Macron will have to quickly find new energy. That vote will determine how free a hand he will have to implement his policies. He has pledged to institute a trio of significant reforms early on in his presidency. He wants to liberalize the labor market and to restore equal opportunity in the job-training and school systems.

His biggest task, of course, will be finding ways for France to find peace with itself. He must create confidence in a country where a strong sense of desperation and resignation has prevailed for far too long.

But if anyone can do that, then it's probably him. He's shown as much with the results of this incredible election.

For now, everything seems possible.


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Inglenda2 05/08/2017
1. The journalists are still at it!
Once again the word Europe is being used, when the what is meant, is the EU. The only way the new President could save the EU from falling to pieces, would be to persuade his counterparts, in other member countries, to get rid of the European Commission and replace it with a democratic elected administration. What we now have is looked upon by many, as being nothing more than a political Mafia. This is the main reason for a return to national patriotism. Free European states working together in peace and co-operation, might be the end of the EU, but could save democracy in Europe and put an end to commercial dictatorship.
simonwhitb 05/08/2017
2. Macron
Don't get too excited. How many French voters chose Macron as the "least bad" option rather than whole harted support?
turnipseed 05/08/2017
3. Monsieur Macron
In 1960 I voted for John Kennedy for president, expecting little and getting in fact little. Were I French I would have voted on Sunday last for Emmanuel Macron, expecting little and sure I would get little. It rarely matters whom we vote for -- sometimes it does in a terrible way like in 1932-33 Germany, but usually it makes very little difference.
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