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After unprecedented election, France’s Macron will face challenges in governing

May 8, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
Emmanuel Macron, now France's youngest national leader since Napoleon, overcame Marine Le Pen's brand of nationalist populism to win the presidency. But Macron does not seem to have an overwhelming popular mandate and could face a highly troublesome five years in power. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports and Judy Woodruff speaks with French Ambassador Gerard Araud.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: France elects a new president, after the most closely watched and divisive campaign there in decades.

Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Paris.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Emmanuel Macron left his home in Paris this morning absorbing the reality that he is France’s youngest national leader since Napoleon.

EMMANUEL MACRON, President-Elect, France (through interpreter): I will serve you with humility, with force. I will serve you in the name of our motto, liberty, equality, fraternity.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Macron overcame Marine Le Pen’s brand of nationalist populism and weathered a suspected Russian hacking attack on his campaign that dumped reams of internal e-mail hours before voting began.

He will be inaugurated as France’s 25th president on Sunday. But even though he won 66 percent of the vote, analysts said it could not be regarded as an overwhelming mandate.

Out of a possible electorate of 47 million, only 20 million people voted for Emmanuel Macron. Many of those did so tactically just to keep Le Pen out. Macron could face a highly troublesome five years in the presidential palace.

Analyst Pascal Boniface says the struggles could start early, if Macron fails to get a majority in the French National Assembly.

PASCAL BONIFACE, French Institute for International Strategic Affairs (through interpreter): He has to create very soon a huge movement and to find a majority. If there is no majority in the National Assembly, he will be a president, but a president with few power.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Congratulatory messages came from across Europe today. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his, calling on Macron to — quote — “overcome mutual mistrust.” Members of the European Union expressed relief.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was delighted.

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter): He ran a courageous, pro-European campaign. He stands for openness to the world.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Boniface says Macron has to deal with the fact that 40 percent of the French electorate are dissatisfied with the E.U.

PASCAL BONIFACE: If Macron wants to succeed, if he wants to make good reforms, he must avoid to have demonstrations in the streets. There is a psychological and political walk to do to show that Europe is not only for the elite, but also for ordinary people.

MALCOLM BRABANT: But there were demonstrations in the streets today. Activists and union members protested in Paris against Macron’s proposed labor reforms. Some clashed with police, who made a number of arrests.

It was a starkly different scene yesterday, as Macron supporters sprinted towards the Louvre to catch the announcement of his victory.

France’s ethnic minorities, who feared the anti-immigrant Le Pen, were jubilant. This Macron supporter repeated “Thank God” in Arabic.

“Marine Le Pen is a dinosaur,” this woman chanted.

WOMAN: In terms of economy, social cohesion, everything, I mean, she was bad. So, we’re really happy today.

WOMAN: There is so many people who didn’t know Emmanuel Macron since one year, and now he’s the president of the republic.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Macron’s win was particularly sweet for the Avaaz Internet-based advocacy group which has been campaigning in Europe against right-wing nationalists.

Avaaz member Joseph Huff Hannon points to the effect of President Trump, who called to congratulate Macron this morning.

JOSEPH HUFF HANNON, Avaaz: The last 100 days or so has probably been a pretty incredible cautionary tale from what French people could come to expect from a faux populist, somebody who kind of says, I’m going to transform the country and improve your lives, without offering any specific policies.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Hannon also believes Macron’s victory signals that right-wing nationalism is on the wane in Europe, and portends well for the election later this year in Germany.

France’s new president, a man with precious little experience of government, inherits a country under a state of emergency. Although he has tapped into a rich seam of enthusiasm amongst young French people, his victory has brought little joy to much of the nation. And he now has to deliver on his promise to unite the country.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Malcolm Brabant in Paris.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the election of Emmanuel Macron, and what his election represents, I spoke a short time ago with the French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud.

Ambassador Araud, thank you very much for joining us.

So, even though we know Mr. Macron won 66 percent of the vote, we also know that turnout was down slightly from before, that many French citizens either stayed home or didn’t express a preference. Just what is the support for Mr. Macron right now?

GERARD ARAUD, Ambassador, France: So, we have to understand that the situation was totally unprecedented.

The two main — the two parties, the Socialist on one side, the Conservative party on the other side, actually had been defeated in the first round of the election, which means that, on the second round, you had basically Madam Le Pen and Monsieur Macron, who have never been elected.

And even for Mr. Macron was running for the first time, running for office. So it means that for some French electors, especially electors from the Socialist Party or from the Conservative Party, really, they felt to be excluded of this run-off. And they decided that either they were going to stay home or they were going not to express a preference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so how divided is France still? You were telling me, with the parliamentary elections coming, it’s really unclear that Mr. Macron is going to have a majority.

GERARD ARAUD: Well, we have never had such a situation, I guess, in the French political life.

You have Mr. Macron, who basically didn’t have a political party a few months ago, yet has created one, who didn’t have any member of the parliament supporting him. And we have the general elections coming on June 11 and 18. So, for him, it will be quite a challenge to get a majority in a new parliament.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, where is France left then with the Marine Le Pen brand of populist nationalism? Is it gone? Has it just receded for a short time? How do you see that?

GERARD ARAUD: No, actually, we are facing the same populist outburst, the same rebellion of some of our voters that you have been facing during the last presidential election in the U.S. or that our British friends have been facing during the Brexit referendum.

And this rebellion is not going to fade away if Mr. Macron and his government are not responding to the concerns of these voters. So, in a sense, we have five years left to avoid a final victory of populism.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do these voters want and what does it mean for the European Union? For now, France stays in the European Union, but is that a secure decision, do you think?

GERARD ARAUD: I think that a lot of French, like a lot of American voters, feel frightened by globalization.

And, in this country, globalization, really, basically is put — in the eyes of the voters, the responsible are Wall Street or Washington, D.C. In Europe, globalization is seen as the fact of Brussels, of the European Union.

So, fighting for — against globalization means for a lot of French fighting against the European Union. So, in a sense, if you reassure the French voters about their life in a global world, you know, really, I think that the question of the European Union will be solved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So we know President Trump was saying pretty favorable things about Marine Le Pen during the campaign, but he has now called Mr. Macron to congratulate him.

How would you describe the relationship right now between the U.S. and France with Mr. Macron’s…

(CROSSTALK)

GERARD ARAUD: For the moment, the relationship between our two countries is excellent, for a simple reason is that, once more, our soldiers are fighting together side by side against international terrorism in Africa or in the Levant against ISIS.

So, I think it’s quite important. The first time I met Secretary Mattis, immediately, he told me: The French are our best allies.

And I think that is the most important.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Macron had very — relatively little to say during the campaign about foreign policy, about his view of the world. What is known about that? How does he see France’s role?

GERARD ARAUD: Well, first, I think — and that was quite important in our times of euro skepticism — is really a truly European.

He wants to — in a sense to move forward into European integration. So, his first visit will be Berlin, where he is going to meet Chancellor Merkel. And I am quite sure that they are going to speak about the next steps in our European endeavor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a visit to the U.S.?

GERARD ARAUD: Actually, he will meet President Trump on the margin of the NATO summit on May 25 in a few weeks, because President Trump will be in Brussels and they agreed to have bilateral meetings in Brussels.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And there is some reporting that you may be called to serve in the Macron administration.

GERARD ARAUD: My fate is in the hands of God.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: OK.

Ambassador Gerard Araud, thank you very much.

GERARD ARAUD: Thank you.

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