On Sunday, May 7, Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election by a 32-point gap over opponent Marine Le Pen. Macron has made big promises to overhaul his country’s politics. As the president-elect heads toward office, making such critical announcements this week as his party’s candidates for parliamentary elections in June, here are five facts (with analysis from our sister publication Knowledge@Wharton) about France’s new leader and his “revolutionary” ideas.
- Macron is a newcomer to the French political scene. At the age of 39, he is the youngest president in the 59-year history of France’s Fifth Republic. A former investment banker and economy minister, he has never held elected office. His one-year-old centrist party, known now as Republique en Marche!, has yet to have any representatives in the French parliament, which is the legislature or law-making body of the French republic. The president appoints the prime minister and ministers who run parliament. France’s new first lady is Brigitte Macron, who is 24 years older than her husband. Macron has said that he will govern much more effectively if he’s happy, and that means having Brigitte at his side.
- Macron’s party is considered France’s only pro-European Union force. Macron is a pro-Europe centrist, which is a departure from France’s establishment political parties. His victory in the French presidential election sent major ripples well past France’s borders. For one thing, it nixed the idea – at least for now — that the European Union (EU) could unravel, a real possibility had Marine Le Pen, a far-right candidate, won. If a country as large and important to the EU as France were to follow the United Kingdom out the door (Brexit!), then a full breakup of the EU would be much more likely. Macron has vowed to do all he can during his five-year term to bring France together and “to hear and protect the most fragile.”
- Parliamentary elections in June are a big deal. During his campaign, Macron promised to push through an ambitious reform agenda, by boosting France’s slow economic growth, battling high unemployment and promoting competitiveness by reforming the labor market and simplifying the tax and pension systems. Education is also a priority. The success of his reforms will depend largely on parliamentary elections in June. Macron has said that half of his candidates will be complete newcomers from business, activist groups and academia, and many will be women. “Macron must either secure a majority in the 577-member National Assembly or put together a workable coalition in order to implement his programs,” says Olivier Chatain, a professor of strategy and business policy at the HEC Paris business school, and also a senior fellow at Wharton’s Mack Institute for Innovation Management. “To come up with 289 members for [an absolute] majority in parliament from a party that did not exist up to two years ago will be challenging,” adds Wharton finance professor Joao Gomes.
- Terrorism and immigration were key issues in the French presidential election. Macron has maintained that instead of closing borders, France must focus on better coordination between its government agencies to control the movement of people. Macron’s outlook embraces tolerance of immigrants and Muslims. Unlike many French socialists, Macron asserts that France should absorb more immigrants as a way to boost its economy. This is just one of many controversial Macron reforms that aim to make the French economy more competitive. Macron has also proposed providing each young adult a “Culture Pass” of 500 euros to encourage young people to discover the culture of France and to deter terrorism.
- Macron’s election is important to Europe. Geoffrey Garrett, dean of the Wharton School, said leading up to Sunday’s vote, “This is a fateful election not only for France but also for Europe and the world.” What is now happening in France is reflective of a larger European trend. The spectre of an anti-European Union, anti-immigrant brand of populism that has threatened to haunt Western Europe seems to have been resoundingly destroyed in the French presidential elections, following pro-EU electoral victories in the Netherlands and Austria. Mainstream political parties in the U.K. and Germany are favored to win in their upcoming elections, as well. HEC Paris’s Chatain sees Macron’s victory ensuring that the EU prevails for at least another five years. The forthcoming parliamentary elections in France and the German federal election in October “will not create much upheaval in the EU,” he predicts. Instead, he is more worried about the outcome of the Italian general election in 2018 and the worsening Greek debt crisis, which amounts to 300 billion euros. Brussels, Belgium, which serves as the capital of the European Union, is feeling particularly festive following France’s election results. “People in Brussels are probably the happiest right now,” says Wharton’s Gomes. “This is their opportunity to rejuvenate Europe and the European dream.”
What is the European Union and why is Emmanuel Macron's election so important to its survival?
How does Macron's stance on immigrants differ from that of his predecessors? Do you agree or disagree?
Macron has never held an elected office. Do you think this is an advantage or disadvantage given the issues facing France?