#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 6°C Wednesday 29 September 2021

The 4 big challenges Emmanuel Macron will face as president

After defeating the far-right, the fight is just beginning for France’s youngest leader since Napoleon Bonaparte.

France President Source: Eric Feferberg/PA Images

THE YOUNG, AMBITIOUS Emmanuel Macron has won over France.

Well, most of French voters.

His comfortable majority in last weekend’s French presidential election has quashed fears of far-right popularity, and put concerns around the future of Europe to bed – for now.

But looming over his shoulder is the threat of what effect his presidency will have: if his policies succeed and he manages the challenges that will inevitably hit, that could be enough to unite France, as his campaign mantra ‘Ensemble’ promised.

But if the relatively inexperienced leader doesn’t cater for all voters, that leaves the next presidential role open to Marine Le Pen and her revamped Front National, whose candidates are bound to come back much stronger than before.

So what must Macron do, and what should we look out for as we follow his presidency?

1. The political mountain to climb

France: Demonstration Against Newly Elected French President Emmanuel Macron Macron is the youngest president since Napoleon Bonaparte to lead France. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Macron has overcome a lot of odds, but political difficulties don’t end at last week’s election.

His new party, En Marche! has very little members, and although it’s thought his election will boost party numbers, that still leaves him will little support to enact law.

“The first challenge is going to be working out some sort of parliamentary majority – it’s not at all a given that he’ll have one,” Paris-based journalist Scott Sayare tells TheJournal.ie.

At this point, it’s too early to know just how rocky this will all be.

To compound matters for Macron (and for France), there’s another round of elections in mid-June, which is another complex, two-round election.

There are 577 seats in France’s lower house (equivalent to the Dáil), and in the run up to the election, Macron had pledged to run exactly 577 candidates.

Although the French president does have extraordinary powers, in order for Macron to govern with speed, he needs to have a political majority.

On Thursday he announced that En Marche would have 577 candidates – only to correct this afterwards and say they only had 450. Not a great start.

The party has received a boost in interest because of Macron’s win – over 1,000 applications to the party have been submitted since his election victory.

The applicants vary from people completely new to politics, as well as politicians deflecting to the new party, as former French prime minister Manuel Valls has done.

But journalist Sayare says that the result, although not Le Pen is still a serious upset.

“The backdrop to this is that socialists and republicans are quite anxious to remain in existence: how are they going to make their way vis-à-vis Macron.”

But will Macron’s lack of experience make a difference to how he governs? Will he buckle under the pressure of opposition?

“Those who voted for him by conviction will have appreciated his willingness to have opposed political thought cohabitating within his movement,” says Sayare.

But because of his lack of experience – all we have to go on is his election campaign – we really don’t know.

2. Trade unions

France: Demonstration Against Newly Elected French President Emmanuel Macron Protesters take part in a trade unions' demonstration against Emmanuel Macron the day after his election. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

One of Macron’s biggest campaign pledges is to reform France’s labour laws – essentially liberalising them.

“It’s called flexi-security,” Sayare explains. “It would make it easier to hire and fire employees, and extend employment benefits to those who’ve left their jobs – right now it’s only available to people who’ve been fired.”

The hope is that this will entice people to leave their jobs in favour of more durable positions. But these proposals drew out quite a crowd during the election campaign – why?

“The French are quite attached to the system as they know it and there’s a tremendous amount of resistance to this.

But it’s true that there’s a real resistance to any changes that are perceived as gestures towards market forces. During the campaign, Macron was accused of being a ‘candidate of competition’.

The French left and Labour unions, which are quite powerful in France, wouldn’t have liked the sound of that.

“It’s a very bold first move,” Sayare says.

3. EU

New Banksy Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Macron was heralded as the bastion of the pro-EU stance in France – but he hasn’t done much talking about what’s so great about it.

That’s partly to do with the fact that there’s been very little focus on the EU or Brexit during the French election campaign, though that could change.

“He’s done very little to make the argument for the EU, there’s been a lot of rhetoric about how Europe is not a threat. But I think he has some convincing to do.

Although Jean-Luc Mélenchon only got 20% of the vote in first round, he was only 1.5 percentage points behind Marine Le Pen. And Mélenchon is deeply Eurosceptic, proposing a French withdrawl from EU.

So far, Macron has promised to reform the EU by giving the eurozone a separate budget, finance minister and parliament (made up of MEPs from the 19 countries that use the euro).

4. Security

Last Remaining Children Evacuated From Jungle Camp - Calais Unaccompanied minors wait to be transferred from the dismantled Calais camp. Source: Arys Aimee/ABACA

One of the most difficult part of Macron’s presidency will be uniting France in the wake of terror attacks, and to boost the countries’ defences and security.

The country has been shaken by terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice and at the Champs Elysee in the recent past.

Even though the people behind these attacks are usually citizens of France, there are calls that these attacks can be stopped by limiting immigration, which was Le Pen’s main campaign promise.

So how Macron reacts to these incidents which he has no control over, could directly impact the Front National’s support, as well as divide the country’s people further ahead of the next election in 2022.

“There will probably be another major attack in France in the next year,” Sayare says.

So what does the little we know about Macron tell us about how he’ll act? Three examples hint that he’s loyal to keeping France as a country that accepts and supports immigration.

When outgoing president Francois Hollande’s government proposed a law that would have allowed the state to strip dual nationals of their French nationality, Macron opposed it. There was a huge debate in France at the time, and it never passed.

During the course of Macron’s presidential campaign, he pledged to look at the social causes for jihadist phenomenon in France. Although there’s a pragmatism to this question, it is loaded as it could suggest responsibility lies with the French. Another bold move.

But his handling of opposing viewpoints is probably the most striking part of the young leader’s personality.

Macron was speaking about the gay marriage, which was made legal in 2015, and how he felt that the opponents of gay marriage, had been ‘humiliated’ by the majority in the preceding debate (he was in favour of legalising gay marriage).

Although it sounded like he was defending the opponents of gay marriage, he said that was not his intent. What he wanted to do, was suggest that instead of rejecting what the opposition says, that ‘we listen to them and attempt to convince them otherwise’.

That could prove an important approach in the immigration debate.

So he has a track record of acting on what he believes is right, whether it’s unpopular or not. But to find out whether he’ll continue to act with that resolve as France’s president remains to be seen.

Read: The beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning – What’s next for Marine Le Pen?

Read: From Donald Trump to Michael D Higgins, there are lots of congrats for Emmanuel Macron

About the author:

Read next: