NZ Herald editorial: French voters have chosen to open doors, not close them

The voters of France have chosen an open, tolerant, trading future for themselves over the closed, protective conservatism that has been stalking western democracies for the past year.

Emmanuel Macron's victory over Marine Le Pen does not mark the end of anti-immigrant nationalism in these countries. In France, as in the Netherlands this year, the far right has been strong enough to finish in second place. Elections are likely to be contests between the nationalism and globalism for some time yet but the significance of the French result is that, unlike the Dutch winner, Macron did not move into his opponent's territory.

He confronted fear and prejudice directly, offering France a different future. Having rejected established parties of the left and right in the first round of voting, the country clearly wants change. Le Pen offered it closed borders, a cap on immigration, a penal tax on companies that hire foreign workers or import goods, repeal of a law that provides children of immigrants with a path to citizenship and a ban on Islamic veils and headscarves in public.

Macron proposed to maintain open borders, remain in the European Union and liberalise France's economy.

At 39, Macron will become not only the youngest President of the Fifth Republic but the first who has not come from the ranks of a major party. Unless his own year-old party can win a majority in the legislature at elections next month, Macron will have to appoint a government from the Republican Party or the Socialists. But he can probably work with either of them.

His political roots are in the Socialist Party and his economic thinking has developed in a free market direction. Before the final round of voting he received endorsements from both the outgoing Socialist President, Francois Hollande, and the Republicans' defeated candidate, Francois Fillon. He appears well placed to find a like-minded prime minister from whichever party wins a majority in the National Assembly.

Those most relieved by France's decision yesterday were supporters of the European Union. Macron stood strongly for the union while Le Pen had promised to hold a referendum on France's continued membership. France was a founding member of the community and the EU would probably not survive a French decision to leave.

Macron's victory puts that possibility off the table for at least five years and strengthens the hand of EU negotiators in arrangements for Britain's exit.

Their chief negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, greeted the result as a "defeat of demagoguery and populism". It was also a defeat for the underhand efforts of website hackers - Russian or not - who tried to upset Macron's campaign in its final days much as they did Hillary Clinton's at earlier stages in the US election. French voters refused to be distracted by misinformation just as they ignored an act of terrorism as the election campaign began.

They have given a youthful new President a mandate to tackle France's economic burdens and inefficiencies. He will have no illusions that the task will be easy or popular. But his election is refreshing for France and re-assuring for an open, trading world.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 26 May 2017 16:39:42 Processing Time: 539ms