In a divided France, challenges await President-elect Macron
PARIS (AP) — It will be a short honeymoon for French President-elect Emmanuel Macron.
France’s youngest president, who takes office Sunday, faces the daunting task of reuniting a troubled, divided nation riven by anxieties about terrorism, chronic unemployment, immigration and France’s relationship with the rest of Europe.
Unions held protests Monday in Paris’ Place de la Republique against Macron, a pro-business centrist and former Socialist economy minister who they consider as a traitor for allegedly threatening worker protections with economic reforms.
In the Paris metro, an advertisement was defaced with the words: “Macron: Not even started, already hated.”
It’s nothing new. Violent protests, egg-throwing and heckling disrupted the campaigns of both the president-elect and his defeated far-right rival Marine Le Pen. Those who couldn’t stomach either candidate in the presidential runoff protested with slogans reading: “Neither Fatherland, Nor Boss.”
The French are worried about the cultural, economic and religious impact of immigration and fear France’s ability to compete against giants like China and Google.
But the campaign’s nastiness turned voters off both the candidates and their proposed remedies. The runoff Sunday saw a sharp spike in voters who abstained or handed in blank or spoiled ballots — representing a third of the electorate.
THE JUNE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
In order to govern properly, Macron’s fledgling political movement La Republique En Marche (Republic On the Move) must now scramble together a majority of lawmakers in June’s parliamentary elections.
That won’t be easy. Macron is the first president of modern France elected as an independent.
Rivals who backed Macron to counter Le Pen in the presidential runoff will now be mobilized to defeat him in the two-round June 11 and 18 parliamentary vote, aiming to elect their own party members to the National Assembly. All 577 seats in the Assembly are up for grabs.
If another party wins a majority, Macron could be pressured to choose a prime minister from that party, a situation the French call “cohabitation.”
The Republicans, whose defeated presidential candidate Francois Fillon was hobbled by charges that his family benefited from taxpayer-funded jobs, still could emerge as the nation’s strongest political party.
If they win a majority, Francois Baroin, the leader of their parliamentary election campaign, could become a right-wing prime minister under the centrist Macron.
The last time France had “cohabitation” was under President Jacques Chirac in 1997-2002, who described the setup as a state of “paralysis.”
If Macron’s party performs poorly, he could also be forced to form a coalition, a common occurrence in many European countries but something very unusual in France.
The choice of the pro-EU Macron as president of the eurozone’s second-largest economy has prompted relief across the European Union.
In his victory speech, Macron vowed to “rebuild the relationship between Europe and the peoples that make it.” Symbolically, Macron also said German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be the first foreign leader he will meet as president.
But the future stability of the bloc is far from certain. EU divorce negotiations with Britain could turn ugly or a populist vote in neighboring Italy might reject the EU.
Le Pen’s “France first,” anti-Europe message struck a chord with great swathes of the country. She had campaigned to ditch the euro and hold a referendum on EU membership.
Macron’s task will be to show Le Pen’s voters that he will follow through on promises to fundamentally reform the 28-nation bloc.
The French president’s position in Europe will also become more powerful when Britain leaves the EU in 2019, as France will become the EU’s only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
With more than 230 people killed in extremist attacks since 2015, Macron needs to prove he has a robust plan to protect the French from terrorism.
The former banker launched his presidential campaign with a plan to tackle extremist attacks by obliging internet companies to release encrypted messages.
But Le Pen tried to paint him as weak and inexperienced on security issues while she promoted her plans to expel individuals on the security-threat list and stamp out Islamic extremism.
Macron rejected Le Pen’s plan to strip dual-nationals convicted of terror offenses of French nationality on rights grounds.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP