EVEN though he promised on the election campaign trail that he would be pushing for the European Union to take action to reform itself, French president-elect Emmanuel Macron is far better disposed towards his country remaining in the fold than his main rival Marine Le Pen is, so the bureaucrats of Brussels can breathe a lot more easily in the wake of his success last Sunday.
However, they still have the spectre of Brexit and at least two tough years of negotiations to deal with and, so far, even though they have an agreed negotiating position backed by the remaining 27 EU member-states, the public exchanges between the main players at either side have been less than cordial, being more confrontational than businesslike. Some of this can be attributed to the British general election campaign with Prime Minister Theresa May hardening the rhetoric in order to impress voters and get her Conservative Party back in on June 8th with an increased majority in order to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations.
Her cause is helped by the weakness of the opposition and the Labour Party in particular under leader Jeremy Corbyn, which is only a shadow of its former self. Local authority elections last week confirmed how much in the ascendancy the Conservatives are and bodes well for their general election prospects.
Ironically, candidates of the right-wing populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which was the main cheerleader for Britain leaving the EU, fared badly in the local elections and it is now teetering towards extinction as most of its high-profile leaders, including the enigmatic Nigel Farrage, have walked away from it, leaving the Conservatives to deal with the fall-out from last year’s referendum. Theresa May’s singlemindedness in taking this on and her determination to see it through evokes comparisons with the last female Conservative Party British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her Iron Lady reputation seems to fit the current incumbent also as she goes into election mode.
Just how tough she really is will only emerge in the course of the Brexit negotiations, which won’t commence until after the British general election next month, assuming of course she is still Prime Minister, which will most likely be the case as this opportunist election is hers to lose and she seems to have her finger on the pulse of the electorate – unlike Enda Kenny and Fine Gael in last year’s Irish election.
Meanwhile, back in France, the defeat of the far-right populist National Front candidate Marine Le Pen in the presidential election eased fears that the country might leave the EU, however she has succeeded in bringing her party more into the mainstream than it ever was over the many years her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who founded it, presided over it as a small minority grouping. Even though National Front policies go against many of the ideals the French Republic and the European Union espouse, she has managed to build a populist following of the type that spooks establishment figures.
This will be a worry to France’s two main political parties, the Socialist Party and Les Republicains, neither of whom had a candidate in the final run-off. The victory of independent pro-business centrist president-elect Emmanuel Macron sends a message to the main parties that people there are not happy with them and that change is needed, but what this is likely to be remains to be seen.