Au revoir doomsayers

Emmanuel Macron is Frances new President Vive la France and Vive EuropeBy Copyleft (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
Voices Europe Monday, May 08, 2017 - 23:47

Indians and the French share at least two traits. We are emotional people and as a corollary, rather self-centred and not open to criticism however constructive it may be. For us, India is the centre of the world much like for the French, for who Paris is where it all happens. But, for one moment on Sunday, it seemed that was true. A major European nation was voting at a time when many questions including some existential ones had peppered popular discourse. Wars had tragedy had reached Europe's shores and terrorism was ripping faith into feud. 

At about 19.30 on Sunday evening, our conversation seemed to peter off. We were all looking at the various gadgets in our palms and so were the people across the table in the restaurant. The French had voted. L’heure de la veritĂ© (moment of truth) was seconds away. It’s that time in a conversation when no one catches the other’s eye. The predictions had swung in favour of Macron a few hours before the announcement, but trumpeting that would have been dangerous.

France has a new President. He is young, ambitious, unconventional and willing to build Europe. Emmanuel Macron has a lot of faith reposed in him. 

For me personally, it was also a moment of deep breaths. My family is partly European and we are strong believers in the European Union (EU). There has been too much war, hatred and loss of lives for sane Europeans to now set themselves on another course of destruction and debt.  And let truth be told – Europeans are not like Americans in many ways. Both have their strengths, but proximity to and history with nations in turmoil east of Turkey and west of Tokyo makes the Continent very different. 

Europe really is far too intertwined economically, politically and historically – and mercifully so – for an election here and there to tear it apart.  The moment the Dutch pulled themselves back from installing a far-right government earlier this year and the Austrians went green, it was apparent to anyone with a pulse on the people that France would not vote for xenophobia and bigotry which were the hall marks of the National Front leader Le Pen's campaign. Make France more French, we are not an international ghetto were some of her 'pearls of wisdom' With French elections over, Germany will return Angela Merkel who won two local elections last weekend.  Europe is safe, the EU is not unravelling so experts must stop being delusional. But, issues raised by the bigots and war-mongers have not disappeared. They will have to be dealt with.

So why were we on tenterhooks – a group of Italians, French, South Africans, Swiss and Indians watching the results? Marine Le Pen’s oratory is stupendous and voter turnout out was slim in the early hours. All of us live and work on the Swiss-French border and while proximity can breed hate, it can also lead to empathy which was where we stood. The shoot-outs in Paris and Nice, the alerts in Brussels, and Switzerland all made us realise how vulnerable we were. The guns and bombs that made one French suspect the other, also poured ice on our conversations and friendships. A vote is a very emotional issue, remember and it was inelegant to ask who had voted for whom. The French have been at the receiving end of ridicule from all around - including from armchair Indians - saying their failure to  deal with Islamic radicalisation will be their doom. The Sunday vote which gave Macron a 65% approval and it is a slap on armchair wisdom. It also made just about everything we believe in look 'cool' again. 

At the stroke of 20.00, Macron, I said. Yes, said the people around the table and the family dinner proceeded happily. Had it been Marine Le Pen the conversation would have been stunted, hanging heavily in the air. It had become difficult to keep up with the pretensions. At 39 Macron is the youngest leader of France since Napolean Bonaparte seized power almost two centuries ago. For a man who has never stood for public office and received almost no support from the country’s established parties, his victory is big.  Twelve months ago, Macron and his En Marche (EM) party were not even around in any significant way. The far left refused to rally behind what they called way a maverick and the right underestimated the power of the young for whom jobs security and secure future made more sense that Le Pen's jingoism. 

Macron has plucked France out of the crude nationalism and xenophobia that Le Pen was promoting. His problems though, have only just begun. Many people who voted for him said it was a negative vote – they were appalled at the thought of a Le Penn win more than anything else. The smaller challenge facing him is to assemble a cabinet, but the one facing him in June is daunting. He has no presence in the current National Assembly and without a majority he will find it difficult if not impossible to govern.  He intends to field candidates in all of France’s 577 parliamentary constituencies with women making up for half of them, but polls are already suggesting that his Onward party may not go upwards in any decisive way. If that were to happen, the French, who are no strangers to coalitions, will have to work out a method of work and governance.  Both the Left and the Right are already sharpening their language against Macron hoping to dent his start from the word go. 

The National Front is expected to be very combative in the June elections and Le Pen now claims to represent France’s main opposition party with 11 million French voters backing her. But, there is a risk that Sunday’s defeat may drive schisms in the party as well as the Le Pen family whose patriarch Jean Marie Le Pen is already off the mark criticising his daughter’s campaigns especially those where she threatened to leave the Euro if victorious. She is young and will definitely make another bid for the top job, but France is unlikely to remain stagnant and waiting for her victory. The next generation is on the move. 

For now, just relax doomsayers, there is no Frexit and there certainly will be no Gerxit – get it? Santé

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