PRINCETON – The centrist Emmanuel Macron’s success in the first round of the French presidential election is likely to re-energize Europe. Unlike the other candidates, Macron does not just recognize the need for radical change to the European Union; he supports bringing it through Europe-wide cooperation. But Macron’s plurality of the popular vote was narrow, and a much larger share of French voters showed support for a very different political vision.
It is a vision of nostalgia and isolation espoused by Macron’s rival in the second round, the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen. Her slogan – “on est chez nous” (we are at home) – underscores her focus on enclosing France in a national cocoon that resists “wild globalization.”
But Le Pen was not alone in promoting this vision. One of the candidates who finished fourth, the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, also built his candidacy on simplistic economic populism. For example, like Le Pen, he promised a radical reduction in the retirement age, without explaining how to finance it.
And both appealed to Germanophobia, focusing on the European debt crisis and Germany’s insistence on austerity. Le Pen accuses Macron of aspiring to be Vice-Chancellor of Europe, under German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while proudly declaring herself to be the “anti-Merkel.” Mélenchon claims that Germany is motivated by radical individualism, neoliberalism, and the economic interests of an aging population.