France after Presidential Run-Off

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Ivan Blot, Former member of French and European parliament; “Rethinking Russia” expert

The elections are over and done with, there is a definite air of finality, and the result is as clear as day. Emmanuel Macron, founder of the social-liberal En Marche party, beat the far right’s Marine Le Pen of the National Front by 66.1% to 33.9%. Macron increased his lead after the one-on-one televised debate four days before the vote. He delivered a stronger and a more convincing performance than his rival, with the latter losing some electoral strength as a result.

The new president is, first of all, tasked with securing a victory at the upcoming parliamentary elections. Otherwise, he will be faced with grave difficulties, which will stand in his way during his term in office. Analysts believe that he will get a substantial majority of 250 to 280 seats. However, the vote will fall short of the absolute majority constituting 289 seats. The Socialist Party will receive 28 to 43 seats, which will allow him to procede with his policies. The Republicans aspire to obtain 200 seats, which is, however, not enough to hold sway in the Assembly. If the Republicans have 289 seats, they will be able to form the cabinet and Macron will have to endure the awkwardness of “cohabitation”. The National Front is expected to get 15 to 25 seats while Mélenchon’s Front Gauche will be represented by merely 6 to 8 deputies. The majoritarian system with its two rounds clearly advantages centrist parties at the expense of others.

The National Front, however, stands good chances of winning government power in the future. Firstly, it enjoys support among young French electors. Secondly, as many as one-third of the votes went to Ms. Le Pen this time.

As for the foreign policy, Macron does not favor Russia unlike the National Front. Like all socialist politicians in the post-World War II period, Macron adheres to Atlanticism. During the Cold War, the United States financially backed socialist parties and trade unions to counter the spread of communism. Notwithstanding the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, America’s liberal forces and France’s Socialists are still on a friendly footing.

At the same time, the situation is complex and multifaceted. Addressing Macron, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin highlighted the necessity to step up their anti-terrorist efforts, an issue of mutual interest. As regards Ukraine and anti-Russian sanctions, the French President-elect will come under pressure from two interest groups. While the political establishment and the Foreign Affairs Ministry are willing to keep anti-Russian penalties in place, business circles oppose such policies and seek to mend fences with Russia instead. On the one hand, Macron, as a socialist, could adopt a tough stance towards the eastern neighbor. On the other hand, France’s one-time banker and Finance Minister could opt for lifting sanctions against Russia. What will he choose? Macron might follow Sarkozy’s suit. If President Macron accepts the necessity of closer ties with Russia, once chilly relations between the two countries might become warmer over time.

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