A sigh of relief was heard all over Europe after Emmanuel Macron beated Marine Le Pen 2 to 1 in the second round of the French Presidential elections .
After weeks of talks about a prospective victory for Marine Le Pen, her getting in the run-off was relatively less shocking than her father’s in 2002. At the time, French people were caught by surprise by Le Pen’s success and the outcry led to a massive victory for Jacques Chirac. The widespread expectancy that Le Pen would get into the run-off and it subsequent normalization, coupled with the fact that the extreme left’s leader Jean-Luc Melanchon did not see fit to call his voters to support Macron - in a suicidal move that seems to characterize progressive parties nowadays - all concur in explaining why she got more votes than her father. But the point is: Le Pen was defeated, fairly and squarely.
Emmanuel Macron was a Justin Trudeau-style candidate. Just like Canada’s Prime Minister, Macron is young, handsome and generally perceived as a new face in politics. His pedigree, in fact, tells otherwise: his education and curriculum is typical of French Grand Comis, people who studied at the “Grands Ecoles” (something similar to the Ivy League in the U.S., with the difference that they are cost-free and based on real merit): Charles De Gaulle, Georges Pompidou, Valerie Giscard d’Estaing, Francois Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, Francois Holland, they all attended (Sarkozy without in fact graduating) at least one of the Grands Ecoles. Macron attended la crème de la crème among them: he went to Sc. Po. and ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration) to then get on a career path common among Enarques: first, Inspector at the General Inspectorate for Finances; then onto the private sector as an investment banker at Rothschild; to finally entering politics directly at the highest level, as Minister of Economy and Digital Affairs in the second Valls Government (2014-2016). As such, Macron reassures the European elites more than anybody else, as the sudden spike in the stock market showed.
As Minister for Economic, Macron got the chance to walk the European corridors that matter helped by his fashionably slightly accented English ― also a novelty among French politicians. He is also profoundly pro-European; during the electoral campaign, he affirmed ― among other things ― that participation in the ERASMUS program (an exchange program for higher education students financed by the European Commission) should be made compulsory for all students. In an environment that suggested otherwise, he took the risk of clearly affirming his pro-European stance: indeed, Europe will be at the center of the last two weeks of the campaign in France. He came out to greet his supporters - gathered in front of the Louvre - accompanied by the European Hymn - Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, hardly a more significant symbolism.
Democrats at the national level can learn from Europe: it's time to stop blaming a supposed populist wave, WikiLeaks, the CIA or the Russians...
Differently from what many predicted in the United States, therefore, the three elections held in Europe since Brexit proved how London’s breakaway reinforced the feeling of belonging to the European Union, among European citizens, rather than the contrary. Populism is not winning in Europe, or at least in Western Europe: after Austria and Holland, also France defeated national populism. (Admittedly, the story differs in parts of Eastern Europe, starting with Hungary, where Prime Minister Victor Orban’s actions may lead to a suspension from the EU, according to art. 7 of the Treaty).
In Germany, the forthcoming October elections will probably lead to a coalition ― excluding any kind of populism ― and the same result is highly probable in Spring 2018 in Italy, where a pure proportional electoral system is likely to be the solution for the new electoral law. That is, electoral systems matter, too.
And this is here where the bad news begins for the other side of the Atlantic: as we know, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost the election, due to how constituencies are designed. Each state has different rules for redistricting, making the whole process very complicated, but one thing is certain: if the Democrats are to change things, they need to actively groom a new generation of politicians, starting with the local level. The local level is also where access to vote is determined: while in Europe voting rights are mostly automatic, in the U.S. there are in fact a million ways to prevent people from voting.
Another lesson US Democrats can learn from Europe is: time to stop blaming a supposed populist wave, WikiLeaks, the CIA or the Russians for the lost elections and rather face the hard reality that for how skilled, knowledgeable and amazing, Hillary was simply the wrong candidate for the times. Her candidacy was at odds with the electors’ quest for new faces ― that is candidates perceived as being outside the usual circles ― yet not necessarily people without political experience. For instance, Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron, Alexander Van Der Bellen are all people of experience, yet perceived as not part of the old political elite.
This repulsion for “politics as usual” helps for instance in understanding how it is possible, as a new Washington Examiner’s poll shows, that though President Trump is the least popular president in modern times, with 42 percent approval and 53 percent disapproval, he’d still beat Hillary Rodham Clinton if the election were held today and in the popular vote, not just Electoral College: asked how they would vote if the election were held today, 43 percent of the respondents said they would support Trump and 40 percent said Clinton.
There are grassroots independent manifestations everywhere from the march for women to the march for Science ― people who react and show their disapproval. Yet, the Democratic Party seems unable to use this positive energy to bring change. The same energy that Macron was able to channel into a vote in France.
Contrary to what many claimed in DC, the French elections are one further proof that Brexit did not lead Europe into disaster. On the contrary, Nigel Farage seems to have damaged Washington more than Brussels… May Paris be a learning lesson for the U.S. Democrats before it is too late.