So, France has taken the easy way out, and voted for more of the same.
Yes, Emmanuel Macron, the president-elect who won nearly two out of three votes cast Sunday, portrayed himself as an outsider. But what policies does he advocate that back up that claim?
He wants France to stay in the European Union and continue its open borders policy that has brought thousands of Muslim immigrants to France. When asked what he would do about Islamic terrorism, candidate Macron said: “This threat will be a fact of daily life in the coming years.” How’s that for taking decisive action?
His victory over Marine Le Pen, the right-wing candidate who got further than many expected her to by finishing a close second to Macron in the first round of presidential balloting, will calm France’s neighbors for the time being. The stock markets across the continent, which hate uncertainty, point to big gains in the immediate aftermath of the election.
The problem for Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker and a member of the cabinet of the deeply unpopular incumbent, Francois Hollande, is that he might not be able to scrape up enough support in parliament to govern effectively.
He will have to wheedle deals with the established political parties – the right-leaning Republicans and the left-wing Socialists, to secure a majority in the National Assembly. Even if he accomplishes that, he will have to convince the deeply skeptical electorate that they have put someone in power who can break the tired mold of French politics being entrusted to a small circle of elite, and often corrupt insiders.
Perhaps most tellingly, a quarter of registered voters simply didn’t cast ballots in the second round, either disgusted by both candidates or not caring enough to show up.
Le Pen, who could never quite shake off the charge that she is a racist and an extremist, offered an unfettered vision of nationalism and a return to French independence from the EU. Haunted by the memory of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front as an unabashed anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, Marine Le Pen could only tell voters that she was not her father’s ideological successor.
Le Pen performed badly in the heated debates she had with Macron. Partly as a result of that, her own party will probably stage a revolt against her in the near future. Having come so far since the last elections that put Hollande in office five years ago, the Front will want to find new leadership that is not tainted with the name Le Pen.
France has halted – for the time being – the slide toward populism that the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election began. It remains to be seen if Macron’s France will satisfy those French citizens tired of taking orders from the bureaucrats in Brussels.