Macron’s easy election victory masks big challenge

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French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Figeac, France, April 22, 2022. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

LONDON, April 24 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Can Emmanuel Macron govern France as easily as his 58% victory over far-right challenger Marine Le Pen suggests? The French president won his re-election on Sunday with a bigger margin than polls had estimated only two weeks ago. But he is now facing different challenges to the ones he tackled in 2017 when he was the promising, under-40 political novice eager to transform France.

It has been easy to forget some basics during a campaign overshadowed by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Macron was notably able to run on a strong economic record. France grew at a faster rate last year than all other major European Union economies – which hadn’t happened in decades – and will have one of the lowest rates of inflation in 2022. And as he promised, Macron was able to slash unemployment. So much so that it is no longer mentioned by pollsters as a major concern among voters.

But France is a more difficult country to govern now. Implementing Macron’s platform, which includes massive investments in the green transition and higher spending on social services and education, will require a majority in parliament. The party he created six years ago may fail to achieve that in elections that will be held in June. And the coalition that he has started to talk about will only be forged by making major policy concessions.

Macron’s life will be all the harder because France is more fractious and divided than the country that elected him president in 2017. Almost 60% of French voters chose a radical candidate, either from the left or the right, in the first round of the presidential vote two weeks ago. And Macron’s lead in the second round, although comfortable, was below the 66% he received against the same opponent last time.

Macron has not forgotten that early in his first term he had to deal with the “yellow vest” revolt – months of violent weekend protests and social unrest triggered by a simple rise in diesel fuel prices. And he is well aware that many of the left-leaning voters who cast their ballot for him on Sunday oppose him and his programme. They just found Le Pen abhorrent. That clearly sets the limits of his margin for manoeuvre.

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(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

CONTEXT NEWS

- Emmanuel Macron was re-elected for a second term as French president with 58% of the votes, compared with 42% for his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, early estimates showed on April 24.

- Macron won 28% of the vote in the first round of the election on April 10, with Le Pen receiving 23%.

- Under France’s constitution, presidents are only allowed to serve two five-year terms.

Editing by Swaha Pattanaik and Oliver Taslic

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