Do you feel nervous about May 7th in France or hopeful? The result of the first round on April 23rd was a welcome boost for everyone who favours openness and the preservation of Europe’s core values. But it would be premature to assume that a victory for Emmanuel Macron in the second round is a foregone conclusion.
Huge efforts can be expected to try to discredit the 39-year-old leader and founder of En Marche (“Forward”), the movement that during the past year has surprised the nation through its vigour, popular appeal and rapid growth. Social media, in the use of which the Front National has proved adept, will be buzzing with stories, with rumours, with accusations.
Macron’s opponent, Marine Le Pen, is trying to recast herself as a statesmanlike figure by leaving the leadership of her Front National, trying to channel General Charles de Gaulle as a politician above petty party politics. But this will cut little ice, since the Front National’s campaign will continue to try to divide France and not unite it, to demonise and destroy Europe rather than to build it.
Macron now needs both to stay cool and to stay a unifying force, a force of hope and constructive reform. His strong belief in Europe will be a vital weapon too, not as a belief in Europe for its own sake but rather as a belief that European collaboration is essential in France’s own interest.
No election has been more important for the future of the whole continent than this one. Europeans everywhere, even in Brexit-obsessed Britain, are waiting anxiously for a positive result on May 7th.
It is a cliché to describe elections and other events as being “a turning point” but in this case it could really be true. This is far more important than Britain’s referendum last June. That decision to leave the EU was dramatic, but need not damage the EU fundamentally. If France were to choose Marine Le Pen as president it would cause catastrophic damage to the whole European Union and to NATO too.
In The Great European Disaster Movie, we envisaged the possibility of a President Le Pen. Make no mistake: we hope this prediction will not come true.
Even if, as we hope, France elects President Macron instead, the dangers facing Europe will not be over. He will need to deliver results, of better lives for all French citizens, of new hope and opportunity, if the 2022 election is not again to present the possibility of President Le Pen.
The need, in France as in Italy, Germany, Spain and all its neighbours, will be for a programme of inclusive reform that releases the great energies of creativity that currently lie trapped, while preserving and extending the sense of equality, security and social trust that have been such an important achievement in past decades.
By Bill Emmott
From time to time we'll share exclusive interview clips (including never-seen-before footage), the most incisive blog posts and the most interesting dispatches from our event organisers as they take the europe debate to the furthest, biggest, smallest, weirdest, most unusual places around europe and beyond.