On 7 May 2017, Emmanuel Macron, an ardent European won the most closely fought presidential race in the modern history of France. He did not only beat Marine Le Pen 66% to 34%, the traditional French parties (the Socialist and the Republicans) but also, he combated the cyber-attacks and a large amount of the fake news. “Macron wants Turkey to be part of the EU”, “Macron is financed by Saudi Arabia”, “Macron might have a hidden bank account in a tax haven” or “Al-Qaeda has chosen its candidate” are only some of the headlines on the fabricated web pages or the social media.
Why did Macron win?
First, the French people chose openness and modernity over self-isolation and nationalism. It was easier for President-Elect Macron to win with Marine Le Pen than with anybody else. The French people afraid of their country being run by the National Front, voted for Macron to cast their vote against the far-right party. Similarly to 2002, the French “pacte républicain” worked out pretty well.
Second, the results show that most French people still believe that France remains stronger as part of the EU. Polls suggest that a majority of French people are against Frexit, partly because they think it will make them poorer, says Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, Head of the GMF office in Paris. Therefore, they got afraid of Marine Le Pen’s anti-European Union and anti-globalisation agenda. Emmanuel Macron has mentioned on various occasions that he wants to vest the EU with even greater powers. Consequently, instead of the next “exit”, he wants to revive the European project.
Third, Emmanuel Macron won because he was successful in getting the support of the other presidential candidates who received almost 20% of support each in the first round but failed to get to the runoff. Precisely, François Fillon, a centre-right candidate and Benoît Hamon, the Socialist candidate. Last but not least, Emmanuel Macron was endorsed by the outgoing though unpopular president François Hollande.
Finally, given the history of the manipulation of the facts during the last elections in the United States and the United Kingdom, the media outlets in France have successfully joined their forces to debunk the fake news. Those were, for example, CrossCheck or Le Monde’s Le Décodex.CrossCheck brought together 17 newsrooms which found and verified content circulating online. Le Décodex is a growing database of sites that were spotted as “real” or “fake”. Le Monde was active also on Twitter with @crosscheck and published “disinformation review” where it corrected the facts.
What does Macron’s victory mean for Central Europe?
Emmanuel Macron in his campaign called, among others, for strengthening ties with Germany, a dialogue with Russia and a two-speed Europe. While the V4 countries do not have anything against renewing the Franco-German momentum, they are divided when it comes to Russia and the concept of multi-speed Europe.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia unequivocally welcomed the triumph of the mainstream political thinking in the key European country. The two countries (together with Hungary) support the dialogue with Russia. In addition, Slovakia is less afraid of creating a common budget for the Eurozone, as it is already a Eurozone country.
Poland and Hungary are worried about the presidency of the openly pro-European Emmanuel Macron. First, because Emmanuel Macron said he would pursue tougher action (most probably sanctions) against them for violating the EU democratic norms. Second, they got offended when Mr Macron called Jarosław Kaczynski, the leader of the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS), and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán the allies with Marine Le Pen. Poland issued even an official statement condemning Mr Macron’s words on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs webpage. Third, even though for Poland Emmanuel Macron’s policy towards Russia is more acceptable than Marine Le Pen’s one (she rejected the EU’s sanctions and claimed that the “Crimean Peninsula” was never Ukrainian), it will oppose any “normalisation of relations” at EU or NATO level that the French president might be in favour of. In more ideological terms, Polish and Hungarian governments seem to want the EU to be a little more than the common market whereas the ambitions of the French and German political leaders go much higher. If such a ‘downgrade’ of the integration process is not possible, they would like to keep the status quo about the EU treaties, the competences of the European institutions. Macron’s victory shows however that the consensus in Europe is shifting and the political union will be built around the Franco-German motor.
A new chapter for France and for Europe has just begun. Central Europe soon will have to make choices that will make the V4 split on many issues.