Editor’s note: David A. Andelman, CNN contributor, two-time winner of the Deadline Club Award, is a Knight of the French Legion of Honor, author of “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen.” ” and blogs at Andelman Unleashed. He was previously a correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Europe and Asia. The opinions expressed in this comment belong solely to the author.
Paris (CNN) — France, Europe and the free world have survived a substantial challenge to their collective well-being. Some 2,000 kilometers away, Russian President Vladimir Putin suffered a severe blow when Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, a Putin ally, to become the first French president in a generation to be re-elected.
The outcome of the contest between the two, France’s youngest leader since Napoleon and the three-time contender to become the nation’s first female president, was never certain for either candidate. After a very close first vote between 12 candidates two weeks ago, the two most voted faced each other in the ballot this Sunday.
As soon as most polls closed across the country, pollsters projected that Macron would get 58.2% of the vote to Le Pen’s 41.8%.
Voters simply opted, in these difficult times, for a safe middle ground instead of a far-right candidate who promised to wreck the economy and society and bring France ever closer to Russia, all for the sake of change the French would never They have fully embraced. What Le Pen did for most of his determined supporters was to show that she could be “presidential”, albeit not president of a France most French people probably do not aspire to live in.
The margin that Macron obtained, despite the high abstention rate, the highest in more than two decades, could give him a substantial boost to obtain a definitive majority in the National Assembly when the elections are held to fill its 577 seats in June.
Above all, Sunday’s elections in effect resolved, at least for the moment, the most important question raised during the campaign: Do most French people really want to change their country so much and especially this type of government that has served them so well? for the entire Fifth Republic that has lasted almost three-quarters of a century? Especially as Macron is poised to assume de facto leadership of Europe, filling the void left by the departure last year of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Throughout the campaign, Macron defined what his second and final five-year term will look like with a passion that matched the attacks of his challenger, Le Pen, who painted France with a monochrome palette. Her agenda included amending the French Constitution to restrict immigration that she sees as a threat to France’s identity.
Macron said he wants a rainbow France, a nation receptive to new ideas of its own or from abroad, one that feels comfortable as the leader of the European Union, NATO and the free world, that is prepared to resolutely confront tyrannies at any cost, outside or at home.
France under Le Pen would have explored a path to accommodation with Russia, which is a pariah for much of the free world, and would have looked inward, turning its back on Europe. At the same time, she would have pushed to ban the use of headscarves for women or yarmulkes for men, and would have held referendums to remove power from a legislature and a judiciary that she never managed to dominate.
At the same time, she outlined a tantalizing prospect of lower taxes and extensive social spending, all the more attractive for a nation where inflation has soared to levels not seen since 1985. But as Macron warned on several occasions, one would first have to find how to pay All this.
Once the victory celebrations are over, the re-elected president will have a full plate, and much of the world is watching whatever agenda he sets. Macron still has two more months as Europe’s incumbent leader, in the rotating system that allows each EU country a six-month term. Hopefully, he will use that period wisely, continuing to unite the continent to take on Putin.
At the same time, there will be challenges and opportunities: Finland and perhaps Sweden trying to join NATO, and Ukraine looking for a fast track to its own entry into the EU.
And at home, Macron will continue to battle rising inflation, as he is across Europe, already urging the continent’s leaders to find some way to weather the impact of any new energy sanctions that may be imposed on Russia.
Then there is the refugee problem on the rise, 5 million people who fled Ukraine in two months. The flow will continue, first to front-line EU members like Poland, which has already received 3 million, as well as Romania and the Czech Republic, all eager to see other nations like France and Germany shoulder some of that burden. So far, barely 30,000 have arrived in France, which has agreed to accept up to 100,000, the straw heralding the tsunami for which Macron will be forced to respond.
Beyond Europe, Macron will play a central role in managing France’s touted influence on the world stage. In Africa, coups have recently multiplied from Mali to Chad to Burkina Faso, along with expanding terrorist activities in former French colonies. Macron was finally forced to withdraw military forces this year after dozens of deaths in West Africa. France will continue to find a way forward, working with like-minded African leaders to prevent Russian mercenaries from filling the void.
And in the Middle East, Macron is already seeking a reset with a number of countries where France has growing business interests, notably the Gulf nations that have become major buyers of French military equipment and the former French colony of Lebanon, which is suffering. a great political and economic crisis. Macron has sought to position France as a loyal and reliable partner in the Middle East and the rest of the world, in places where a realignment is taking place away from its traditional allies, particularly the United States.
In Asia, Macron will surely seek to play a leading role in stabilizing the increasingly tense relationship between the EU and China. The eagerness of both sides to expand trade is affected by human rights violations and China’s continued support for Russia during its war with Ukraine.
At the same time, Macron was left hurt and infuriated by a Biden administration security pact with the UK and Australia (known as AUKUS), which in turn torpedoed a major French-Australian submarine deal. The United States saw the trilateral pact as its new bulwark against China. That has been brought into sharp relief now that China has signed a mutual security pact with the Solomon Islands, fueling fears that Beijing may be seeking a major naval base in the region, all brought together as a small treat for the misfortune of others, in some corners of the Elysee.
With a presidential victory fresh, Macron still faces his biggest challenge if he is to be able to move forward with his vast menu of initiatives: another national election in June, when voters choose a new National Assembly. Many of those who faced Macron in the presidential race will seek to unseat the comfortable legislative majority he has enjoyed. In many respects, this vote could be of greater long-term importance to Macron, France and his place in the world than the presidential race.
For the time being, however, the West still has a staunch and loyal ally with democratic aspirations and principles to play a critical role in Europe’s future, one that the White House will no doubt find attractive, as concerned as the Biden administration was that Le Pen could find her way to the Elysée presidential palace.
The United States would do well, then, to celebrate this victory.