The first round of the French Presidential election followed what the bookies and experts had come to predict, yet it was no less remarkable for that. The candidates from the two main political parties were eliminated, and two “outsiders” – Marine Le Pen from the Front National, Emanuel Macron from the new En Marche! Party won through to the final run-off on May 7th.
Now the experts, and the bookmakers, reckon that Macron is an odds-on favourite to win the run-off in a few days’ time. But I can’t help wondering … it just doesn’t feel right somehow. I know we should not feel prejudiced that he married his teacher, who he met when he was 15 and she was 39, but it just feels weird. I’m sorry to be judgemental. And I can’t help thinking that if the sexes had been reversed, there would be many more comments about this. “Nobody would call it unusual if the age difference was reversed,” Macron has been quoted as saying but au contraire, a male teacher in that situation would probably have got into a lot of trouble.
Then he went to the top university for French elite, became a civil servant in the financial auditing and supervisory body (the equivalent of NAO in the UK), then an investment banker, then a political adviser, (so all the most popular professions covered there), before being appointed Economic Minister by Francois Hollande without even having been elected. He dumped Hollande after two years – presumably seeing how unpopular Hollande was – and set out his own stall to be President, creating his own political movement.
So, an elite, political animal with a banking background, no loyalty, an odd private life, never even stood for election – and the French are going to make him President? Oh yes, he is going to get rid of 120,000 public sector jobs, he supports open immigration and is going to take France closer to the EU. Well, they’re all going to be popular policies, aren’t they? The “establishment” is totally behind him, but might that actually alienate many voters; the British establishment pretty much all supported Remain in our EU referendum, and we know how that ended up!
Macron may still win, because to the great credit of the French people, many of them simply want to stop the Front National and Le Pen from getting into power. But really, it does seem like Macron will be the most fortunate man ever to get into such a position if he does win, without really having achieved or done anything much in his life. His success will be the failure of mainstream politics.
In terms of procurement, Macron will presumably be a supporter of the EU approach with a degree of openness in terms of trade and a desire to play by the “European rules”. Whereas if Le Pen is successful, it could be bad news for the EU – although she will presumably not have the support of the elected French government even if she wins, as her party is most unlikely to be in the majority in government.
One assumes she would take a robust line in terms of issues like using public procurement to support French national interests. In the recent candidates’ debate she said that her “economic project is resolutely oriented towards small and medium-sized enterprises”, which she described as “the foundations of the French economy”. She claimed her programme would ensure that smaller firms who struggle against foreign firms and large multi-nationals would be awarded public procurement contracts “as a matter of priority” in line with the principles of “economic patriotism”.
Clearly, that is unlikely to be legal under EU public procurement rules. (Indeed, it may not be under wider trade agreements which France might still want to be part of even outside the EU). But she has talked about taking France out of the EU, saying that “the economic patriotism” she wants “is impossible in the European Union”. So, an election that has huge consequences not just for France but for the EU and Europe more widely.
But let’s come back to the bookies, who were of course seriously wrong about Trump and Brexit. On Monday last week, you could get eight to one against Le Pen winning. I don’t think she will, but it feels like her chances are a lot better than that. So yes, I have placed a small bet ….