Be Like Macron a.k.a Populism Has No Legs

Lorie Shaull via flickr || Creative Commons

Recently, the eyes of Europe were on the presidential election in France. Although no politician dares to say it out loud, by looking at the outcome, all politicians think about their own careers. And draw conclusions.

What is even more important than the Macron’s presidency is the sole fact that a politician who was relatively unknown just a year ago, and who managed to organize a campaign in just eight months prior to the election without party support, has won. Moreover, he has won over a candidate who was dreaded by the rest of Europe.

Surprisingly low result of Marine Le Pen does not mean that it is the end of National Front, nor of nationalisms in Europe. However, one thing became clear: We are facing a slowdown in their dynamics and the end of dreams of marching to power – at least in such a form as it functioned until now. Maybe this will sound a bit brutal, but adequately nonetheless: After all, the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice that occurred in the last few years were a true godsend for Le Pen. They confirmed the fears that she cultivated in France. It seemed that everything works in her favor and that the ongoing rising wave will carry her to the presidency. However, she failed miserably.

In the first round of the presidential election she received 7.6 mln votes, while back in 2012, in the previous presidential election – 6.42 mln. This means that despite a highly favorable circumstances of the last five years she gained only 1.2 mln new voters. Meanwhile, Macron, a young candidate who appeared – as it would seem – out of nowhere, managed to convince 8.6 mln voters to support him within a year. For Mrs Le Pen, who has been present on the French political scene for almost 20 years, such a result was a slap in the face.

The second round brought a crashing defeat to nationalists. 66:34 is a very significant success of Macron. In comparison, five years ago, Francois Hollande received 51.64%; in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy – 53.06%. Such a significant disproportion makes one thing clear: National Front has a glass ceiling. And it cannot be crashed by Marine Le Pen’s way, ie. by pretending that the party has nothing to do with nationalism, by removing her own father from the party, and even trying to avoid using the „Le Pen” name in the campaign.

Who’s Obsolete Now?

Macron has presented himself as a brave and honest politician with a vision. He gained a survey boost after a series of extremely successful speeches which gave him traction on YouTube. Excited, to say the least, Macron, was shouting with a hoarse voise calls for action to stop nationalism and protect the Republic. He has openly, even enthusiasticly, supported the EU. It was a true breakthrough, especially in the light of the politicians who talk about the EU only indistinctly, looking for an excuse for their political beliefs. Macron was in his speeches on the offensive, he tried to impose his EU narrative on the audiences. Instead of being in the defence, he kept attacking and was very credible and authentic while doing it.

In comparison to Macron, Le Pen seemed uninspired and dull, she kept repeating the same anti-immigrant slogans over and over again. The same slogans as 5, 10, and 15 years ago. When listening to her, one could get the impression that her populist rhetoric has burnt out, that it is merely a repetitive liturgy conducted only for the sake of gaining voters’ support. People who did not know which one of the two candidates is the anti-systemic one, and whi is the candidate of the establishment, might have been under the impression that Le Pen represents the political old troopers who rutinely perform their job, while Macron is a young revolutionary. And this is probably how it is in reality: Le Pen entered the presidential race for the second time, she has been active on the French political scene for over 19 years, she has been the leader of the National Front for 6 years. It does not sound like a promise of a change.

The defeat of Le Pen proves that using a populist slide is not enough to enter the Élysée Palace. Populism is not enough, it is not as appealing as it was very recently anymore. It even seems outdated and unattractive as a yesterday’s newspaper. For the young voters for many years it must have constituted a well-established part of the archaic political system. Contrary to expectations not only of Le Pen herself, but also many observers, it turned out that the voters want a reasonable and moderate approach and rational arguments. Granted that those will be put forward in a confident manner, with strong conviction in what is being said. Without the commonly used by pro-European politicians apathy, dullness, and fear of being accused of being alienated from the society. And without talking about Europe as if it were a bitter pill that needs to be swallowed because it is for the benefit of us all.

The lesson which can be learnt by politicians from this election is as follows: Populism has no legs. It may come in handy for the time being but up to a certain point. After the peak is reached, it becomes useless. Nationalists in Europe scored as much as possible, but they did not come to power anywhere. Meanwhile, moderate candidates win the leections country after country – that was the case in Austria, the Netherlands, and now in France. Macron proved that the EU is still in fashion and presenting oneself as an euroenthusiast does wonders.

In the last couple of years it was believed that although euroenthusiasm may be noble, it is also politically useless and thus it is better not to mention it at all if one wants to win the election. Macron proved that it is not true – euroenthusiasm can help bring one to power when it is presented skillfully and reasonably.

Election experts from other countries watch closely the developments in other countries and analyze them to later on use them for their own devices. If a moderate candidate won and a populist lost in only one country, this could be perceived as a one-time accident. Three consecutive examples show a trend. And the manner of how political leaders and their administrations function comes back to chosing the well-known paths. Imitation is not only easier, but also lowers the risk of the defeat – this is why everywhere in Europe emulating the patterns and solutions that worked somewhere else is prevalent.

Maybe in Europe or maybe in Poland the most important consequence of the French election would be an announcement of the end of boom for agressive populism and the beginning of an era of „the Macrons”. Could it be?

The article was originally published in Polish at:

Translated by Olga Łabendowicz

Marcin Wojciechowski