Can Macron Pull it Off?

CAMBRIDGE – Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen was much-needed good news for anyone who favors open, liberal democratic societies over their nativist, xenophobic counterparts. But the battle against right-wing populism is far from won.

Le Pen received more than a third of the second-round vote, even though only one party other than her own National Front – Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s small Debout la France – gave her any backing. And turnout was apparently sharply down from previous presidential elections, indicating a large number of disaffected voters. If Macron fails during the next five years, Le Pen will be back with a vengeance, and nativist populists will gain strength in Europe and elsewhere.

As a candidate, Macron was helped in this age of anti-establishment politics by the fact that he stood outside traditional political parties. As president, however, that same fact is a singular disadvantage. His political movement, En Marche !, is only a year old. He will have to build from scratch a legislative majority following the National Assembly elections next month.

Macron’s economic ideas resist easy characterization. During the presidential campaign, he was frequently accused of lacking specifics. To many on the left and the extreme right, he is a neoliberal, with little to distinguish himself from the mainstream policies of austerity that failed Europe and brought it to its current political impasse. The French economist Thomas Piketty, who supported the socialist candidate Benoît Hamon, described Macron as representing “yesterday’s Europe.”