We have a right to be optimistic following the outcome of the French presidential election. Conditions were extremely difficult. Rising prices were putting pressure on the middle class and the war in Ukraine has caused major disruption. The winds of nationalist populism were blowing incessantly from left and right, while social media were pouring more oil on the flames. But France did not break; and Europe did not break. This alone should be a reason for optimism. As a friend of mine often says, “Have faith in Europe.”
The French election race also showed that no political battle has been lost before it has begun. Emmanuel Macron fought on his own, he took risks, he engaged the French streets, and he succeeded. At the same time, he showcased a new truth that appears to be gradually taking hold of European politics. The once-dominant political parties have been mostly marginalized; some of them have all but disappeared. The same goes for traditional recipes, slogans and dividing lines. Citizens are more attracted to powerful personalities, be they Macron or Orban, because they believe that they can solve problems.
Macron’s victory however is a very positive development for Europe. The French president has strong views about the direction that the European Union should take. He believes in a dominant role for Europe and he is willing to take risks. His activism and big words occasionally irritate France’s deep state. However, Europe needs a leader of that sort. The need is more prominent today as Merkel’s do-not-rock-the-boat dogma is on its way out. Macron also has views on the Eastern Mediterranean and his re-election is in line with Greek interests, notwithstanding any rapprochement between Paris and Ankara.
All that does not mean that Macron or any other European leader for that matter can afford to relax and enjoy a sip of Chardonnay. Far from that, in fact. Pressing problems remain, including some very big deadlocks. Middle-class frustration will not abate easily. In the case of France, implementing any reform will be extremely difficult as the country has been extremely allergic to reform, even under ideal circumstances. The cohesion of the EU will be tested for economic and geopolitical reasons.
However, as said earlier, we have a right to feel optimistic about Europe as well as this country. Adverse as the circumstances may be, a determined and responsible leadership is capable of prevailing. People get angry but at the end of the day they cast their vote on the basis of common sense. Especially if they feel they made a mistake the previous time around.