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The French Election: Who Wins, Who Loses

Emmanuel Macron, a 39 year-old former banker who started his own political movement, has won the first round of France’s presidential election, with an estimated 23.9% of the vote and will contest a second-round run-off with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who took 21.4% of the vote after a weak end to her campaign.

Macron is overwhelming favorite to win the run-off on May 7: Not only is he popular in his own right, but two of the losing candidates, Francois Fillon and Benoit Hamon, have already endorsed him. Not a single opinion poll has suggested that the Front National leader Le Pen can beat him in the second round, and most polls predict a 2-1 margin of victory for Macron. Here’s a quick run-down of who wins and who loses as a result.


  1. France: The Continent’s second-biggest economy has rejected the temptation to give in to populists from both the right (in the form of Le Pen) and the left (in the form of Jean-Luc Mélenchon). It has chosen a candidate who embraces the realities the modern world—technology, highly fluid labor and capital markets, and the need to cooperate with other countries, notably in Europe, rather than pursue an illusion of national security and well-being in isolationism and nationalism.
  2. Business: Macron’s program is built on the desire to roll back a French state that currently consumes 56% of national income, the highest of any advanced economy. He has promised sharp cuts in taxes on payrolls and corporate income taxes, and a thorough simplification of France’s complex pension system. Businesses will also get more freedom to strike pay deals with their workforces. While he’s less clear on how that will be funded, his sincerity can’t be doubted. He had left the administration of current President Francois Hollande after his proposed reforms to the labor market were watered down by the Socialist Party.
  3. The Young: At 39 years old, Macron would be the youngest person to lead France since Napoleon Bonaparte, and the first digital native to do so. That means millennials are likely to be among the biggest beneficiaries of any further reforms to a labor market that strongly protects those who already have a job, but scares business off making any new hires. Even after a year of falling unemployment, 23.6% of French under-25s are without work. Macron’s rhetoric also suggests that he’ll be less tolerant of the vested interests that stand in the way of France’s startups.
  4. Martin Schulz: The man who is leading the German Social Democrats’ campaign to end 12 years of center-right rule under Angela Merkel in September will be mightily relieved. Not only does Macron’s victory prove that a center-left platform is still electable after a torrid decade for Europe’s traditional left, but victory for Le Pen or Mélenchon would have caused a hardening of German attitudes towards the EU that would have benefited Merkel and other right-wing parties more. Schulz will now be able to offer German voters the prospect of a more harmonious Franco-German axis—which historically means a more effective EU—than at any time since the financial crisis.
  5. The euro and the EU: The single currency leapt 2% against the dollar after the poll results on Sunday, because Macron is committed to both it and the other key projects of the European Union. By contrast, Le Pen and Mélenchon had threatened to wreck the EU by abandoning the euro. International investors who had dumped French bonds and stocks ahead of the election are flooding back in: The CAC40 stock index rose over 4% early Monday, led by the banks, who had most to lose from the populists’ euro threat. With the Netherlands also having soundly rejected populism in elections in March, the European Central Bank, which had identified political risk as the biggest threat to the Eurozone economy this year, may now have the confidence to tighten monetary policy faster. That could cause the euro to rebound further and faster against the dollar.

Read: France’s Presidential Runoff Is A Victory For Global Business


  1. Right- and Left-Wing Populism: The strong end to the campaign by the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon had raised the specter of a run-off between extremes of left and right. Instead, he finished fourth, while Le Pen couldn’t even defend the lead that she had held for months in the run-up to the campaign. A victory for Macron in two weeks’ time won’t kill off French populism, but the fact is that the economic cycle is now working against populists of all hues. Joblessness has been falling for a year, and Macron now has the chance to address the exclusion and social mobility problems at the heart of the malaise.
  2. Donald Trump: Although the President had stopped short of an official endorsement of Le Pen, he made no secret of where his sympathies lay, praising her in an interview with the AP as recently on Friday, and seemingly trying to mobilize support for her in a tweet that followed Thursday night’s terror attack in Paris. He will struggle to put a positive spin on a result that endorses globalism, multilateralism and liberalism.
  3. Vladimir Putin: Russia’s president had also been hoping for a result that would divide the EU and weaken European liberalism. He had welcomed Le Pen in the Kremlin only weeks ago and Russian media had portrayed both her and center-right candidate François Fillon as preferable alternatives to Macron. Russia’s cyber-warriors had flooded the French Internet with stories undermining and smearing Macron ahead of the vote. As such, both the German and the likely French leader have been on the receiving end of Russian meddling in their countries’ politics, and that will ensure frosty relations between Europe and Russia for the foreseeable future.
  4. François Hollande and the Unreconstructed Left: If Hollande had had the courage to back Macron’s proposals when he appointed the young Rothschild banker as Minister for Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, France’s Socialist Party would not be in the existential mess it is in right now. The economy would have started to recover sooner, and even if that hadn’t been enough to get Hollande re-elected, it would have least allowed him to leave the Elysée Palace with dignity. The official Socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon, finished in fifth place with a miserable 6.4% of the vote.
  5. French Conservatism: Things don’t look much better for the other half of France’s traditional political mainstream. While conservatives can console themselves that they only lost the election due to the personal venality of François Fillon, the reality is that their way of doing politics allowed, sponsored and covered up that venality as long as humanly possible. With different, but similarly grubby scandals having dogged Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac in the past, the humiliation of missing out on the run-off for the first time ever is no accident, but rather a humiliation that has been long in the making for the political descendants of Charles de Gaulle.