Weekend Roundup: Macron’s Challenge Has Global Resonance


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

The election of Emmanuel Macron as the new president of France has, for now, stalled the onward march of nationalist and extremist populism across Western democracies. Jacques Attali, a longtime mentor to Macron, put it this way in an interview with me as election results came in: “As in the United States and Great Britain, the main political debate is precisely this: is going back to the past better than going forward? We have answered differently than others in the Brexit and Donald Trump votes. France has sided decisively with the future.” Above all, he emphasizes, voters saw that “a better French future depends on a stronger Europe.” 

Alain Minc, one of the more prominent early supporters of the incoming president and an outside political adviser, also underscores the anti-nationalist European dimension that played out in France. “The most important consequence of the election,” he says, ”is that it will now be possible to relaunch the European construction.” In Minc’s view, the election also signaled “that populism is no longer condemned to the extremist edge.” Instead, a new kind of “mainstream populism,” as he labels it, has emerged. From the populist playbook, Minc explains, “Macron took the idea that political parties are not necessary, and he could directly connect to people at the grass roots. … By mainstream, I mean pro-European and pro-market — essentially the ‘social market’ model of Germany that combines free-market dynamism with strong social protections.” Minc sees Macron as very much in the mold of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his centrist policies in the United States during the 1990s.

Writing from Paris, Zaki Laïdi concurs that “Macron’s political genius was to see that France’s main divide was not right versus left. He thus realized it was possible to launch a movement against both the Republicans on the right and the Socialists on the left.”

Anne Dias expects further shrewd moves from Macron in the days and weeks ahead as he tries to assemble a parliamentary majority. “Appointing a premier from the center-right party [instead of from the left],” she writes from Paris, “would not only forge an overture to the right to implement economic and security reforms, but also — and this has been Macron’s grand scheme all along — it would create a ‘recomposition’ of the French political landscape.” 

Bill Emmott, a former editor of The Economist, warns that elections are not the be-all, and certainly not the end-all. “The French vote was important but ultimately not decisive” in defeating those who oppose a more open society and economy, he argues. “And it would be wrong to say the fight is over, even in France, let alone the rest of the West. … Elections count, but they do not bring the battle to a close.” For Emmott, the key challenge for the long-term survival of liberal democracy is to remain open to the world of trade, technology and immigration, while at the same time closing the growing inequality gap. “Populist nationalists such as Trump and [far-right nationalist leader Marine] Le Pen have sought to frame the debate as being about globalism versus patriotism,” he writes. “But that is to divert attention from the true issue. The real issue is that open, liberal societies have in the past succeeded by combining openness with a strong sense of equality ― a winning formula that has become neglected for so long that today it’s been effectively rendered obsolete.”

How Macron meets this challenge in France will test whether his victory in this election is in the end meaningful. France has one of the most rigid labor markets in Europe, where strict hiring and firing rules guarantee security for those who have jobs and shut out those who don’t. General unemployment remains at a stubborn approximately 10 percent, and youth unemployment is near 25 percent. Innovative companies like Uber have famously been met with stiff resistance — only the beginning of the heady opposition already mounting from trade unions and student activists who oppose Macron’s pro-growth proposals, which they see as paving the way for an American-style precarious situation for workers. 

In short, French voters may have rejected the past, but they have hardly embraced Macron’s vision of the future. Marine Le Pen, who sought to inflame anxieties over immigration and national identity, garnered a substantial just under 34 percent of the vote. More than one-third of the electorate abstained or cast null ballots. Macron’s approval rating as he enters the Élysée Palace appears fragile: 47 percent of the public, according to a recent survey cited by The Financial Times, “do not like” him. 

On the European front, Angela Merkel, the German partner with whom Macron seeks to build a better future for his country and the region, continues to insist on austerity policies and firmly resists the idea of a financial union and a common budget that Macron sees as critical to ending the eurozone’s dysfunction.

Macron succeeded brilliantly as a post-party outsider in exploiting the anti-establishment fervor roiling France. Now comes the hard part of translating his vision into practice.

Other highlights in The WorldPost this week:




EDITORS: Nathan Gardels, Co-Founder and Executive Advisor to the Berggruen Institute, is the Editor-in-Chief of The WorldPost. Kathleen Miles is the Executive Editor of The WorldPost. Farah Mohamed is the Managing Editor of The WorldPost. Alex Gardels and Peter Mellgard are the Associate Editors of The WorldPost. Suzanne Gaber is the Editorial Assistant of The WorldPost. Rosa O’Hara is the Social Editor of The WorldPost. Katie Nelson is News Director at HuffPost, overseeing The WorldPost and HuffPost’s news coverage. Nick Robins-Early and Jesselyn Cook are World Reporters.

EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Arianna Huffington, Eric Schmidt (Google Inc.), Pierre Omidyar (First Look Media), Juan Luis Cebrian (El Pais/PRISA), Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute/TIME-CNN), John Elkann (Corriere della Sera, La Stampa), Wadah Khanfar (Al Jazeera) and Yoichi Funabashi (Asahi Shimbun).


CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.

The Asia Society and its ChinaFile, edited by Orville Schell, is our primary partner on Asia coverage. Eric X. Li and the Chunqiu Institute/Fudan University in Shanghai and Guancha.cn also provide first person voices from China. We also draw on the content of China Digital Times. Seung-yoon Lee is The WorldPost link in South Korea.

Jared Cohen of Google Ideas provides regular commentary from young thinkers, leaders and activists around the globe. Bruce Mau provides regular columns from MassiveChangeNetwork.com on the “whole mind” way of thinking. Patrick Soon-Shiong is Contributing Editor for Health and Medicine.

ADVISORY COUNCIL: Members of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council and Council for the Future of Europe serve as theAdvisory Council — as well as regular contributors — to the site. These include, Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Juan Luis Cebrian, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei KudrinPascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon MuskPierre Omidyar, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel RoubiniNicolas SarkozyEric Schmidt, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter SchwartzAmartya SenJeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry SummersWu Jianmin, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Ahmed Zewail and Zheng Bijian.

From the Europe group, these include: Marek Belka, Tony BlairJacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar IssingMario MontiRobert Mundell, Peter Sutherland and Guy Verhofstadt.


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