8 May 2017
The former British ambassador to France explores what Macron’s victory in the French presidential election means for France, the EU and the Brexit negotiations, in an interview with Thomas Farrar.


Emmanuel Macron is committed to keeping France in the European Union and many European leaders are said to be relieved by his victory over Marine Le Pen. Will Theresa May share the same feelings as her European counterparts?

I saw that she was one of the first to put out a congratulations to him yesterday and I am sure that the British government will recognize that this is the arrival of a new major heavyweight player in the EU. With his position as president of France and all that momentum behind him, he is someone who is going to be very influential in EU councils over the next five years, and that’s starting straight away because he will arrive with already considerable knowledge of the EU dossiers.

It will be important for Britain to get alongside him early on and start discussing with him the key issues in the Brexit negotiations. He will have his own approach. He is a strong European, I know that personally, and he will be very unhappy that Britain is leaving, so he will approach this in a fairly strong frame of mind but he will want a deal.

In spite of a resounding victory, Macron is leading a new party whose chances of securing a majority in the National Assembly in legislative elections in June are uncertain. How would ‘cohabitation’ with a prime minister from a different party affect Macron’s reform agenda, both for France and for the EU?

With this astonishing election result behind him, he will go into these legislative elections with a momentum – and there is a magnetic attraction in a newly elected French president. I mean, people have elected this young man as the head of their state as well as the leader of their government, and I think that will be persuasive when it comes to the ballot box.

I don’t know how many members of l'Assemblee nationale his new En Marche! movement will get. They will have a group [but] it may not be a majority and he will need to have support from others. I think there will be an attractive magnetic power that will bring in some of the social democrats from the Socialist side and some of the centre-right people as well.

I think he will have a governing majority. Exactly who he chooses as prime minister will depend a bit on the composition of the new national assembly. But I think having put him in power the French people will want him to have the wherewithal to govern.

What sort of relationship will Macron have with other European governments, in particular Germany?

As a strong believer in Europe as a good thing for France, he will see the relationship with Berlin as absolutely fundamental, and he’s already spent a bit of time developing a relationship with Angela Merkel. I think she will be delighted at his arrival in power and so that will become the natural axis for French European policy, to work closely with Germany.

Beyond the Franco-German link, he will arrive in the European Council in a very strong position. The European Council always looks to the most recently elected member, and especially if they’ve been elected with a convincing majority. That will give him enormous influencing power in the European Council; he will become one of the heavy hitters from day one.

Is France’s rejection of Marine Le Pen’s anti-EU agenda a significant turning point for Europe?

I think it is interesting to see that in the elections in continental Europe we’ve had Mr Rutte, the pro-European Dutch leader re-elected, we’ve now had a pro-European French president elected and whether it’s Madame Merkel or Mr Schultz [in Germany], they are both pro Europeans as well. So it looks like the continental European countries, who have perhaps not embraced globalization as enthusiastically as Britain and the US, have maintained public support for the European project.

Brussels and individual policies coming out of Brussels are not very popular in France or other European countries but there is still public support for the broader point that a stronger Europe is in France’s interests, and I think that is true of other European countries too. In a way, this nationalist tide that we saw with the US and Brexit has not washed onto the shores of the continent.

What are the chances of the Front National becoming the main opposition party, as Le Pen has suggested?

I don’t think that’s very likely. The Front National have never performed very well in legislative elections; the legislative system isn’t in their favour. And they have actually always underperformed what the polls have suggested, and that was true in the regional elections last year – the polls suggested that they would win at least one if not two of these big French regions and they won none of them.

They will get some députés but I think not all that many. And I think the Republicans, who have now shed Francois Fillion – they will do pretty well. But no, I don’t think Front National will be the major opposition party. 

How will Macron reconcile the views of Le Pen supporters, in particular concerns over immigration?

I think what he hopes to do is show that he’s tackling the issues that really count with French voters. Too often in the past presidents have got elected by promising the moon and then not delivering, and that’s led to an awful lot of cynicism. Macron has got himself elected on a very specific programme which he will now try and implement and hope that – by showing that he’s a serious politician who does what he says and follows the commitments he’s given – that he will bring a bit more confidence back to France, and that politics and politicians can actually tackle problems that matter to people.

He will never reconcile a group of far-right voters who will never be able to accept his policy programme or him but I think he’s trying to show people that being the president he can make commitments and then deliver them. And he’s hoping that that will change the mood in the country in a more positive way.

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