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What Macron's re-election means for globalisation and the world

Emmanuel Macron defeated his rival on the right, Marine Le Pen, in a replay of the contest in 2017, but with a lower margin and with fewer voters turning out to vote. (File Photo: Reuters)Premium
Emmanuel Macron defeated his rival on the right, Marine Le Pen, in a replay of the contest in 2017, but with a lower margin and with fewer voters turning out to vote. (File Photo: Reuters)

  • Macron stands for politics that disdains populist simplification of complex problems, and eschews emotive slogans that substitute for detailed argumentation to convince people of the need to make hard choices in a changing world. This is good for democracy around the world, including in India

It means continuation of globalisation, faster crystallisation of Europe as a centre of geopolitical power and a roadblock in the path of populist takeover of the political discourse

Emmanuel Macron defeated his rival on the right, Marine Le Pen, in a replay of the contest in 2017, but with a lower margin and with fewer voters turning out to vote. Macron is a clear favourite only among the 18–24-year-olds, with other age groups split more evenly between him and his far-right opponent, who kept her essential programme of xenophobia wrapped in her party’s official documents, while talking non-stop about the soaring cost of living and how she contrasts with the uncaring, Jupiterian incumbent of the presidency. The Communist Left’s determination to not let the far right take over the nation made their candidate, Jean-Luc Melanchon, who had scored a surprising 22% of the vote in the first round of voting to determine which two candidates would make it to the run-off in the second round, appeal to his voters to defeat Le Pen. That helped Macron.

Two things stand out about Macron as a politician: steadfast refusal to ignore the complexity of the interdependent world in which his nation has to progress, belief in the power of dialogue and relentless engagement to win people over to policies that upset the status quo but are essential for national renewal. Pension and tax reform, for example, is vital for France, half of whose GDP flows through the government as state expenditure. He slashed tax rates to make them more business-friendly, relaxed rules to let new companies come up and roused public anger: it is easy for his opponents to portray his policies as ones designed to help his rich friends while hurting the working people. But unemployment fell sharply, in particular, youth unemployment; and France has a far more vigorous start-up field today than it had in the sclerotic past.

Pension reform, which seeks to unify the myriad different regimes for different categories of workers, and raise the retirement age, is deeply unpopular. Yet, Macron included that among his campaign promises, and can be expected to carry it through in his second term, after his attempt in the first term stumbled against the longest transport strike in recent French history.

After his higher taxes on petro-fuels had run up against the so-called gilets-jaunes (yellow vest) protests, particularly in rural area, Macron conducted a series of townhall meetings across France, in which he argued out his case, and persuaded many voters of not just his sincerity but of the soundness of his policies.

Macron stands for politics that disdains populist simplification of complex problems, and eschews emotive slogans that substitute for detailed argumentation to convince people of the need to make hard choices in a changing world. This is good for democracy around the world, including in India.

India and the developing world have gained, and still gain, from globalisation of the world economy. Ill-educated workers too inflexible to upgrade their skills have lost out in the rich world, even as their entrepreneurial elite have gained immensely. There has been a backlash against globalisation in the rich world. Politicians like Trump in the US and Le Pen in France take advantage of this disquiet by seeking to reverse globalisation. Xenophobia and racism fit in handily in this agenda, making it tougher on immigrants.

Politicians like Macron seek to address the problems caused by globalisation, not to reverse the process, by changing domestic policies and incentivising re-skilling and creation of new businesses. His re-election is good news from this perspective.

Macron is the strongest proponent of Europe developing its own strategic capability outside the America-led Nato miliary alliance. He saw not just Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia but also Trump’s ‘America-First’ isolationism. Biden’s unilateral timetable for an abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan sent out the message that America’s de-prioritisation of Europe was not a Trumpian or Republican policy idiosyncrasy. It takes courage and clarity of vison to read that message right. Macron showed both.

The Ukraine war has re-engaged the US with Europe. But for how long it would last after the war concludes is moot. Europe already has in place a geolocation system, the Galileo system of satellites, that removes one level of strategic dependence on the US and its GPS satellites. Germany is now committed to spending 2% of its GDP on defence, and shedding its post-War defensiveness on military strength. With nations of Europe beefing up their own defence capability, it is not inconceivable that Europe would have its own security force and security strategy outside Nato.

A unipolar world is good for the US, but not for any other country. A bipolar world gives some space for manoeuvre, but not for India when the other pole is China, with a tendency for several of its dragon feet to stray into Indian territory. India would be constrained to toe the American line, to secure its help vis-à-vis China. India needs a multipolar world. A strong Russia is useful in this regard. A European geopolitical power centre, in addition to the US, China and Russia, would make it easier for India to fully emerge as a power in its own right.

Macron is good for the French, and for a globalising, multipolar world. Raise of a glass of just not any old bubbly, but of authentic champagne!

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