France: Help this man! | Opinion | DW | 07.05.2017
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Opinion

France: Help this man!

Emmanuel Macron is the right man for the job. He has what it takes to lead France out of crisis and keep it firmly anchored in the European Union. But that doesn't mean he'll succeed, says Max Hofmann.

It might not quite be like Barack Obama's victory for the ages in 2008 but Emmanuel Macron still pulled off something historic. He's set to become the first French president in recent memory not to belong to one of the two established parties (Socialists and conservatives). He's also the youngest. For his voters this is the moment France gets back on track. Youth, hope, optimism: All these words are used by his supporters to describe what they like about the new president. But is the 39-year-old really up to the task, and can he avoid the major disappointment many already see on the horizon?

Macron is smart. Super smart, say those who know him. At each stage of his life he made new friends among the brightest minds of France: businesspeople, philosophers, politicians. He was able to prove time and again that he can forge alliances, mediate, find solutions and compromises. He did it as a student at the best schools of the country, as an investment banker with Rothschild and as minister of the economy under outgoing President Francois Hollande. For those who doubt: Watch the last debate between him and a toxic Marine Le Pen. He was faster, firmer and more knowledgeable in every way than his opponent. But all of this will amount to nothing if he doesn't find allies in France's shifting political landscape.

Frankreich Macron TV-Debatte (Getty Images/AFP/E. Feferberg)

Macron has proved his ability to succeed time and time again.

Sailing into uncharted waters

"En Marche!," Macron's political movement, is as fresh as a spring flower, and as fragile. So far it doesn't have one seat in the French parliament. That will certainly change on June 18, when the French again head to the voting booths to elect the National Assembly. But it most likely won't be enough to govern. Macron needs partners. The only ones available will be the power brokers of the past, the ones that France's voters just firmly rejected: the Socialists and the conservatives. And the old money often dislikes the nouveau riche. Macron is sailing into uncharted waters.

Hofmann Max Kommentarbild

DW's Max Hofmann

Read more: Final round of French presidential election raises existential question for voters

The established parties know that they will have to cooperate to some extent. If they block Macron for their own benefit, both lose in the end. In a way the French are giving the old order one last chance with the young politician. They did it because he left Hollande's government two years ago and got rid of the stench of the establishment after some time. But if he fails like his predecessor did, a majority of voters might be willing after all to try something completely new: Marine Le Pen. So there is pressure galore on Macron and his most likely allies in the parliament. That doesn't mean they will produce the political equivalent of diamonds.

Last-chance president

The last weeks have shown that the Socialists are completely caught up in a family feud between right and left wing. The conservatives chose a candidate with Francois Fillon who managed to fail in an election that was his to lose. Both parties have large factions of hardliners that live in political la-la land and would prefer to have their country founder than compromise on anything. Oh, and then of course there is Marine Le Pen with her National Front, which will probably for the first time garner a significant number of seats in parliament. They will do anything in their power to obstruct the new president. Indeed, Macron will have a lot on his plate.

To close with something positive: Emmanuel Macron won with a decidedly pro-European program. He was in favor of globalization and immigration. He wore all the things right-wing populists hate and defame with a badge of honor. And it worked. That in itself is an achievement. The European Union needs to help this man if it wants to survive. He might turn out to be the last-chance president for a France at the heart of Europe. He might have what it takes to pull his country out of its permanent crisis. He might give a once proud country back some punch and self-esteem. But he won't be able to do it alone.

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