Macron’s decisive win again far-right contender Marine Le Pen has been heralded as a confirmation that the rise of populism has been defeated – if only it were that simple. The victory of the pro-EU centrist does not imply support, or contentment with the status-quo, it confirms that France, like much of the western world, is ready for change.
The first round of the French elections was a denunciation of the establishment: neither candidate from the two parties that has reigned over French politics for decades made it through to the second round. Armed with a political movement that was less than a year old and never having held elected office, Emmanuel Macron took the lead in round one, pulling 23.8% of the vote. Burgeoning resentment towards the EU and open immigration propelled Le Pen to second place with 21.5%. The establishment Socialist and Republican candidates only pulled 26.3% of the vote between them. But choosing which newcomer to lead would prove divisive as there was little middle ground between them.
Marine Le Pen was solidly defeated, but she captured over 1/3 of the vote in the final runoff – almost 11 million people. Le Pen appealed to those who have been left behind by globalization, who feel marginalized and disenchanted with the establishment. Although extreme, Le Pen’s anti-Islam, xenophobic, and protectionist platform capitalizes on the same kind of discontentment across Britain and America.
While Macron may have attracted more moderates from the left or center-right, his victory in both rounds of the elections confirm the discontent with the status quo. Macron is a former investment banker who served under president Hollande, but had never run for public office. Breaking from Hollande last May, Macron formed his own independent political movement, En Marche! Taking a grassroots approach, Macron has built an impressive base with a pro-Europe message of inclusion and unity. While it does not push an overhaul of the establishment, he campaigns against a system that the people see as ineffectual and broken, selling them on a fix rather than a complete overhaul.
We’ve seen minimal movement in the euro following the French elections, but the populist risk that overshadowed the single currency may not be clear quite yet.