Will Macron see off the populist threat?

Emmanuel Macron beat Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential election. But can he beat populism for good, asks Emily Hohler.


Marine Le Pen: Macron is my ideal opponent, she says
(Image credit: Credit: dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo)

Emmanuel Macron, 39, a former Socialist economy minister under Franois Hollande with a background in investment banking, launched his centrist and pro-European political movement, En Marche!, just one year ago. Now he stands poised to become the next president of France. He won 23.8% of the vote in the first round of the election on 23 April, while the far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen took 21.5%.

"This is the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic that neither the Socialists nor the Republicans will be on the ballot in the second round," says Matthew Elliott in The Times. "The mould of politics is truly being broken." Macron is now the favourite to make it to the lyse Palace the latest opinion poll suggests that he will beat Le Pen by 62% to 38% in the run-off on 7 May, and he was swiftly endorsed by the Republican candidate Franois Fillon, who took 19.9% of the vote, and by Socialist Benot Hamon, who received a mere 6.4%.

His victory is not as assured as it seems, says Angelique Chrisafis in The Guardian. Le Pen has previously declared that Macron would be her "ideal" opponent in the final round. She styles herself as the "candidate of the people" and depicts Macron as a globalist former banker from the "arrogant elite". The election map on 23 April showed a country divided with the National Front winning "swaths" of the de-industrialised north, east and south, while Macron took the west and cosmopolitan cities.

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Macron's vote was "particularly high" in Paris, a "thriving island" that seems increasingly sealed off from the pessimism that surrounds it. The globalists should "not take a victory over populism for granted", agrees Martin Sandbu in the Financial Times. Keep in mind that the top four candidates on Sunday all scored within a few percentage points of each other. "Things could easily have gone another way." And Macron's support is much more "fragile" than Le Pen's.

Macron will need to draw "massive support" from both left and right, agrees Elliott. Commentators point to Le Pen's poorer than expected performance and her father's 18%-82% defeat against Jacques Chirac in 2002, when voters rallied to block the xenophobic candidate from the presidency. Yet it is "by no means certain" that either conservative, Catholic Fillon supporters or left-wing voters who share Le Pen's protectionist and statist stance will back Macron.

Nor does Macron's battle end on 7 May, say David Gauthier-Villars and William Horobin in The Wall Street Journal. Should he win, he will need another big victory in the two rounds of parliamentary elections on 11 June and 18 June if he is to become more than a "mere figurehead" . Without a majority in parliament, French presidents are forced into "cohabitation", a form of power-sharing under which a prime minister forms the opposition, "effectively squeezing the president into a ceremonial role".

So far Macron has announced only a handful of candidates who would run for the 577 seats. "With no party machine and no intimate knowledge of 577 constituencies, Macron will find it very hard to designate effective candidates in the ten-day window before the legislative campaign begins, adds Franois Heisbourg in the Financial Times. Already, 15,000 have volunteered to run under the En Marche! banner, but he needs to vet them first.

If Macron does win, it spells "bad news" for the UK when it comes to Brexit, says Nicola Slawson in The Guardian. In his election manifesto Macron described Brexit as a "crime" that will leave the UK facing "servitude", and he has warned that the UK should not be given special treatment. Negotiations will "undoubtedly be tougher with President Macron at the table".

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.