Emmanuel Macron has just gained the French presidency. France had a stark choice in the last round of the election and the rest of Europe had to watch as their fate also hovered. If Le Pen had won it might well have been the end of the European Union. As it is, Macron's programme is the most pro-EU of any European leader. After Austria and Netherlands this means that people on this mainland side of the Channel have made a very different choice from the people of Britain. Furthermore, with Britain out of consideration and Macron in power we can expect to see a strengthening of the EU's central institutions. Perhaps Europeans will start to pay some of their taxes direct to a European central exchequer. There may well be efforts to integrate European armed forces and certainly to harmonise EU foreign policy. We can expect quite a few speeches reaffirming EU core values and presenting the EU as the largest political area with no death penalty, the best civil liberties, best health care and so on, not to mention what most people in Brussels see as the leading achievement - peace in W Europe throughout the time of the EU's existence.
Nonetheless, although soundly beaten, Le Pen's 33% is the best result that the political far right have achieved in France so far and she is already declaring herself the leader of the opposition. The socialist party was massacred and the far right have attracted a good deal of working class support. Although this is a decisive turning point, it is also, therefore, a beginning. If Macron and other EU leaders (Merkel has also won some local elections this weekend) can deliver the goods and make the EU once again into an idealistic project with momentum, they will carry the future, but if not, then there are still plenty of people waiting for a chance to return to nationalism and a rather harsher style of governance.
The divide between the EU and Britain may also become something of a divide between the EU and US. President Trump has already changed his mind about NATO, but some of his former criticism of it was valid. The EU does, to an extent, get a free ride at America's expense. In return the EU does have to let the US take the lead in many international situations. This situation gradually comes under more and more strain as Europe very gradually becomes more independent. With this result, that tendency could accelerate. Most people think that Trump was rooting for Le Pen.
The fact that both Putin and Trump are thought to have favoured Le Pen while the French have rejected her also hints at how Europe is edging toward an independent position. We shall all be watching to see how far it goes.
French elections have been the lab of a fundamental political change in Europe, and at the global level as well. As a sort of Cartesian "clear and distinct" idea, it is now emerging that federalism and nationalism are the new main poles in politics and in society. This definitively bury the traditional contraposition between right and left, in no way reflected within the new trend, as shown, for instance, by the fact that the rust-belt-type social strata are on the nationalistic/populistic side while the middle-class, companies and intellectuals are on the other side. Of course clearness and distinctiveness do not work perfectly when descending from the sky of ideas to the complex arenas of economy and society: there are a lot of contradictions within this emerging trend, and nevertheless it's difficult to deny that a big change is now occurring in European socio-economic-political patterns, reflecting the wider-scale reshaping of the interrelations between this continent and the US, China and the others (I feel bad in being compelled to classify the UK among the others).
Now it's time for a different approach to Europe by the political elites of the major countries. It's time to overcome the principle that main decisions have to be taken through the concert of national governments and to find ways for a concrete devolution of powers to a higher level instance. Macron's main mission (together with the other European leaders) is to overcome the kind of Europe which we inherited, conditioned, in the very end, by another Frenchman, a well-known tall military man whose phantom is still going around under different, updated, appearances.
Massimo, je suis d'accord. We do seem to have crossed some sort of watershed. What was new was the way that Macron was completely unabashed in promoting a pro-EU attitude and showing that such an approach could win. This is surely going to embolden others. For a long time until now pro-EU advocates have almost invariably had a rather apologetic tone and this has subtly fed the idea that the EU is no good. Macron was quite blatant in advancing his enthusiasm.
Of course, there are real problems to be faced and I suspoect that the key to all this cannot be turned in Paris. Germany has a huge trade surplus and if Europe is to function as a single federation that money has to be recycled into European infrastructure rather than into building ever higher the amount of US debt held by the German government. I think the ball is really now in Merkel's court.
Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. Imagine. You are a school teacher in a French provincial town. In your class one of the cleverest of the boys gets a crush on you. So what do you do? Well, you leave your husband and marry him. He leaves school and goes into banking - not, at the time, a very exciting career, though perhaps a potentially lucrative one. Then the financial crash comes along and banks suddenly become key elements in social administration. Your clever young husband gets talent spotted and soon becomes (unelected) minister of finance to the president of the republic. However, the government is becoming increasingly unpopular, so your spouse resigns, starts his own party from scratch using methods mostly drawn from opinion canvassing and a few months later you find yourself to have become first lady of the land. Well, if it were written as a summer fiction novel - even by Geoffrey Archer - nobody would believe in it.
Just over a quarter, actually. Abstentions and spoiled ballots amounted to slightly more than the number who voted for Le Pen, so the actual result was Le Pan just under a quarter, don't knows just over a quarter and Macron just under half.
Macrons' party is now in the middle of a big exercise to pick candidates. They have had many thousands of people applying. Poor old Valls, however, has been side lined.