French voters have given heart to everyone who may have despaired for the turn of electoral events in Britain and the United States last year, particularly since Paris suffered an act of terrorism just before the vote in the first round of France's presidential election.

The first round has been won by an outward-looking young "globalist", Emmanuel Macron, who is pro-Europe, pro-trade, multicultural - a liberal in economic as well as social terms. That makes him something of a rebel in French politics, the liberal economic orthodoxy of English speaking countries in recent decades has never been embraced philosophically by France.

Macron's success, therefore, may something to do with the rebellious mood that also sustains the campaign of his nearest rival, Marine Le Pen. Both represent a rejection of the main parties of the left and right that have dominated the politics of France's Fifth Republic. The run-off between them on May 7 will be the first to feature neither the Republican (Gaullist) Party nor the Socialist Party. Their supporters are likely to prefer Macron in the decider, making him the favourite to be France's next President.

But not a certainty. He may be the opponent Le Pen hoped for. He stands diametrically opposed to her brand of nationalism, protectionism, fear of immigration and her determination to take France out of the European Union. An opponent from a mainstream party would have been more likely to move in her direction, trying to neutralise her issues as far as possible.

Advertisement

Le Pen will make the most of Macron's liberalism as she promotes a French equivalent of America First, promising to close borders to migrants, erect trade barriers, tax firms that hire foreigners, strengthen ties with Vladimir Putin's Russia and strip suspected jihadists of French nationality. Chances are, though, she has harvested just about all the votes available to her National Front and must be disappointed by her result on Sunday. Polls over many months had suggested she would win the first round handsomely and only then face a hard road to win as much as 51 per cent of the vote in the run-off.

Receiving only 22 per cent in the first round leaves her with a long way to go. Macron, though he received just 23.7 per cent, stands to gain the 20 per cent that went to the Republican's Francois Fillon and the dismal 7 per cent received by the candidate for the governing Socialist Party. Macron is a former economy minister in the Socialist Government but having formed his own party he is not suffering from the unpopularity of President Francois Hollande. He has formed his own party and it is seen as "centrist".

No so long ago, Macron's economic liberalism would have been characterised as right wing, especially in France. But left and right in Western democracies these days no longer refers to socialism and liberalism, the debate is between nationalism and globalism. Nationalism is economically protective and fearful of immigration and diversity. Globalists are socially tolerant and economically open to migrants, trade and foreign investment.

For France Macron would represent a welcome change.