Emmanuel Macron, a 39 years old former banker from Rothschild and France’s former Minister of the Economy, is likely to become the new President of the French Republic. His victory against the National Front and the French political establishment in the first round of the French Presidential election was largely anticipated by the latest polls, but nobody in Europe saw it coming before last summer. One year ago, the presidential hopeful was hardly known outside the French borders. Now, many European leaders have expressed their opinions about him and his vision for France in the European Union.
It is now OK for European leaders to officially endorse Macron:
Despite a lot of implicit support from other world leaders and foreign politicians, few people chose to officially endorse Macron before the first round of the elections. For example, Barack Obama called him in front of cameras. Even if it is not an official endorsement, a friendly “good luck” speaks volume. The former American president holds no official position in the American administration, but he knew an official endorsement would have triggered a considerable backlash in both countries.
Not meddling with foreign in partner countries is a basic rule of diplomacy. First, trying to influence the internal political life of a country is usually perceived as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. Foreign politicians are, by definition, not part of the people that elect their own leaders. Second, endorsing a candidate in a foreign elections comes with great risks. If your candidate wins, then he might be grateful for the endorsement. But if another candidate wins, he will probably hold a grudge against you. This grudge might make posterior cooperation between the two countries harder.
German chancellor Angela Merkel understands that very clearly. She failed to endorse him before the first round, despite receiving him on 16th March. This was a favour she did not grant to François Hollande in 2012, or even to his conservative counterpart François Fillon. She still has not endorsed him officially, but some of her aides and Ministers did. Other leaders are using the same technique to voice over their preference for Macron, like the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni through his Minister of the Economy Pier Carlo Padoan.
Why is it important?
Foreign endorsements might not be decisive for Emmanuel Macron to win the Presidential race. It might actually give Le Pen some room to attack him on his pro-European and pro-globalisation views. Georgi Gotev, a senior editor for Euractiv’s, writes in The Brief, that EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s endorsement is a « poison kiss ». Once, again Juncker believes the opposition of a Eurosceptic populist party and a pro-European candidate allows him to meddle in a national election. But his official support might be counterproductive. Juncker called the Dutch no to oppose the EU-Ukraine agreement, the Greeks to vote yes to the 5th July 2015 referendum, and he requested the Britons to stay in the EU.
Macron does not need these endorsements to win, but it gives him some international stature. Pierre Moscovici, the EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs and former Hollande Minister, told the European press that this election is about Europe, and most European observers agree. All the international attention, and the broader political context in the world, make this election crucial for the EU. And this attention it gets from Brussels and the national capitals reinforces the prominence of the issue. But the French presidential election is not a mere referendum on the EU. French voters have plenty of others topics to care about, and many of them have different priorities than most European observers.
Eurosceptic populism has not been defeated:
One part of Europe does not endorse Macron at all. This French presidential election can be linked to a broader context of the rise of populism in the Western world. We can read this election as yet another round of the struggle of right wing nationalist populists to win over their countries. The Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump in the United States were decisive victories for populists against the establishment. The Austrian and the Dutch elections saw populists fail to win the elections, but neither of Geert Wilders nor Norbert Hofer actually lost. Marine Le Pen might not be the next president of France, but she already succeeded in beating the French establishment. The National Front now enjoys a European reputation, and many extreme right parties are seeing Le Pen as an example of a successful politician. Macron is likely to win the Elysée, but he will not defeat Eurosceptic populism this time. Some people will try to emulate Le Pen’s performance, and Europeans know it. This potential spill over effect makes it appropriate for European leaders to ignore the traditional diplomacy and to meddle in.
Picture by Robert Pratta/ Reuters