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08 May 2017

Macron wins, Brexit En Marche!

Emmanuel Macron emerged victorious from the most important French presidential elections in the last years. The 39-year old centrist politician prevailed over Marine Le Pen and became the youngest president of the republic.

Macron and his political movement “En Marche!” won 66% of the votes denying the chance of Le Pen to become the first woman president of France. European leaders hailed Macron’s win as a triumph over the anti-establishment (far right), anti-EU parties that have grown during the economic crisis that hit the Old Continent.

The new French president had served as a minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in the second Manuel Valls government, back in 2014. Macron had been an advisor for president Hollande and had worked as an investment banker in famous firms. Macron declared his candidacy only seven months ago, vowing to start a democratic revolution. Macron gained the support of prominent members of the Socialist party, but was also supported by a significant number of centre-right politicians.

Although he quickly managed to attract the voters’ attention, in a time that traditional parties of the French political scene were failing in that task, he faced criticism regarding his plans for France. It was only in the beginning of March that Macron presented a 150-page formal program to the media. In his book “Revolution”, Macron describes himself as “leftist” and “liberal if by liberalism one means trust in a man”.

Macron’s election reflects the dead-ends of the French political scene. Candidates such as Francois Fillon, who became part of many scandals, and Benoit Hamon, who failed to gain the trust of the Socialist voters, were easy targets for Macron. Young, well-educated and open-minded, if we judge from his marriage with his school professor who is 24 years older than him, Emmanuel Macron seemed the best choice for the French presidency. On the other side of the ring, Marine Le Pen tried to give life to the anti-EU feelings of the French nationalists counting on the Muslim hatred, bad unemployment figures and the tide of immigrants. She failed because France wasn’t ready to go on separate ways with Europe.

One of the most important issues that Emmanuel Macron is going to face, during his presidency, is Brexit. Negotiations will start soon between the British and the EU negotiators and will be intensified after the UK’s June parliamentary elections, in which Theresa May is expected to win. No one really knows what will be the outcome of a procedure that may last 2 years, but the EU has straightforward said that the Brexit deal will come first, and then there will be talks about the future relationship.

Jean Pisani-Ferry, an economic adviser to Macron, said on BBC Radio 4 that the new French president will be “tough” on Brexit, but also that it’s not in his intentions to punish Britain. Pisani underlined that Macron believes in Europe’s potential to give solutions to problems and stressed out that there is a mutual interest in maintaining ties with Britain, once it leaves the Union.

Right after the referendum in the UK, Macron had expressed his dismay and called the result “a crime for which Britain should be punished by a total exit.” His election as president means that plans of dismantling the EU will be cancelled, at least for the next few years. During his visit in London, Macron met prime minister May and he was clear enough to say that Britain should respect the four EU freedoms if it wants access to the single market. Some British officials say that, since he is liberal, he likes the City and he won’t be antagonistic towards Britain. Perhaps, in this spirit Theresa May hailed his win saying that “we look forward in working with the new president on a wide range of shared priorities.”

The news of Macron’s victory was unsettling for some Brexit supporters. The British pro-Brexit group Leave.eu compared the win of the pro-EU candidate with the French capitulation to the Nazi Germany in 1940. The group tweeted that the new French president will save Germany the fuel and bullets, adding a picture of a 1940’s newspaper with the title “we’ll battle alone, Britain says.” Nigel Farage, always eager to show off his anti-EU sentiment, commented that Le Pen will win the next presidential elections in 2022 because Macron will be Jean Claude Juncker’s puppet.

Another issue that will need to be negotiated is the Le Touquet treaty. This bilateral agreement was concluded in 2003, between Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac. The treaty concerns the implementation of frontier controls at sea ports on both French and British soil. Macron had said, during his election campaign, that the treaty should be renegotiated, especially the part that has to do with isolated child migrants.

Theresa May was quick enough to say that she will fight any attempt by the French government to renegotiate the treaty that allows British border control officers to operate in Calais. May is keen on reminding Macron’s team that the deal has worked for the benefit of the two countries, north and south of the Channel.

Angela Merkel said that Macron carries the hopes of millions of Europeans. The German foreign policy is always in favour of the German-Franco cooperation in all fronts, but since Macron seems to have his own views about the future of Europe, it is unknown how the new president will respond to German plans. On the other side of the Channel, Theresa May should be bracing for impact.