As France voted for the first round of its presidential elections yesterday it was San Jordi here in Barcelona and the streets were filled with books and roses. The weather was sunny and clear and it was hard to be skeptical about the world and its prospects on such a nice day.
While the problems facing the world are many including the ongoing nightmares in Syria Iraq and Yemen, the very tense situation in Venezuela, and a number of areas of deep concern from Nairobi to Johannesburg to Washington D.C., at least a candidate has emerged who might bring France and the EU back together again.
Macron to the Rescue!
Emmanuel Macron is young, telegenic and smart. He served under the Socialists as Finance Minister but resigned in August last year amongst speculation that he would run for president. Not only did he do that but after yesterday’s results he is heavily favored to win in the run off election on May 7th.
Macron will, of course, be running against Marine Le Pen who has done her best to soften her father’s hard right image but essentially is running on a program which is to take France out of the Euro, out of the Schengen treaty, which allows the free movement of people across much of Europe, and to limit or even reverse years or French immigration policy.
She is a European Donald Trump who plays upon people’s hatreds and fears and brings the darkest part of the right into the mainstream. Macron has diametrically opposite views and will work for a more tolerant, inclusive Europe and wants to re-calibrate the partnership between France and Germany that has kept the peace in Europe for three generations and is the primary motor of the EU.
Macron does recognize that the European Union needs serious reform and referred to the Euro as a “weak Deutsche Mark”. His challenge will be to find common ground with whoever wins the elections in Germany next September.
In the German election, Angela Merkel is facing serious opposition from the Social Democrats who have picked Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament, to run against her. Mr. Schulz actually owned a book shop before running for parliament and, like Macron, believes the way forward is more inclusiveness and a better European Union.
Even in the U.K., Teresa May’s decision to call for a snap election next June might actually turn out for the good if Tim Farron and the Social Democrats can make the case for Europe and broaden his party’s electoral base. Like Macron and Schulz, Farron argues in favor of Europe and offers voters a clear choice.
These three elections will most likely have an impact on the future evolution of the EU and I can see two broad scenarios emerging. One scenario is a win for Macron and results which are strong enough for Schulz and Farron to bring about structural reform in the EU which is consistent with its values and the dream of the European project. That scenario could even include the U.K.!
The second one would be a win for Le Pen which might actually turn out well for the EU as her program will be to slow down many of the elements of the current project which most bother the UK’s slim Brexit majority. This scenario would slow down the EU but might actually allow Mrs. May enough political cover to actually stay in.
As too many people found out after Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, it does matter who wins these contests. In my view the short term future of Europe and the degree to which it will be positive force in the World at large is at stake.