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Macron Election Lends Merkel Breathing Space

08/05/2017 16:37
dannymark via Getty Images

What does Emmanuel Macron's victory mean for the German federal election in September? All of the German mainstream parties must be relieved that after the shock of the UK Brexit and US Trump votes, the French have stayed true to type and voted 'with their heads' in the second round of their presidential elections. Only the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) would have gained from a president Le Pen in the Élysée.

Opposition Social Democratic chancellor candidate Martin Schulz will take heart at the outcome. A self-styled establishment outsider with no experience in German federal politics, he has slumped in the polls after two underwhelming results in the federal states (Länder) of Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein. The French electorate's choices may rekindle his hopes. Macron's win represents both a vote against 'business as usual' and for fresh - but mainstream - blood, rather than the populist alternative.

Recently president of the European Parliament, Schulz likes to present his EU CV as a substitute for relevant home experience. However, neither he nor incumbent German Chancellor Angela Merkel could have upheld the Franco-German relationship with a Le Pen Presidency intent on managing her voters' expectations of 'Frexit'.

Overall, Angela Merkel is set to gain the most from Macron's victory. Her leadership role amongst the member states in Europe will only benefit from a pro-European French President committed to European unity but preoccupied with domestic modernisation. Initially at least, Macron will lend support in Europe without excessive interference, at least in foreign affairs. At home, cautious German voters, proud yet always a little nervous of their economic stability, will prefer Merkel's moderating influence over a constructive Brexit outcome to the volatile Schulz's demands for a hard Brexit with the potential for negative economic fallout. The failure of the French populists will also strengthen her moderate wing over the reactionaries in her own Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU).

At the same time, Merkel will be aware that Macron's victory might provide nothing more than a breathing space. Macron's modernisation agenda foresees a root and branch reform of the Eurozone. Whether the careful Merkel could stomach such a radical measure remains to be seen. In the short term, a swing to the right and a pro-populist majority in the French parliamentary elections in June could yet undermine the strength of the German mainstream parties ahead of their own September election.

One of the greatest concerns arising from the French election will be the hacking attack targeting Macron in an attempt to influence the vote. Although apparently rather amateurish in comparison with the systematic attacks that are claimed to have derailed Clinton's presidential campaign, the German parties will be shocked to see that false news may now be a standard weapon in any major election. Another, far deeper concern will be the apparent ease with which the French voters have cast aside the pluralist party framework, rooted in historic class and religious divisions that has for so long contained and channelled the voice of the people.

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