In France, Hope for Centrism

By Tyler Fisher on February 14, 2017

Recent developments in the French Presidential election have made Centrist Emmanuel Macron the favorite with three months to go in the campaign

What did a 38 year old former investment banker turned French economic minister do when he was frustrated with a political apparatus he thought no longer served the interests of citizens? Emmanuel Macron started his own centrist movement and became a presidential candidate. Now he is the frontrunner to become the leader of the European Union’s second largest country.

In France, voters will go to the polls on April 23rd and choose between ten presidential candidates. The top two voter getters will advance to a runoff election two weeks later when citizens will choose between those final options.

Far right leader Marie Le Pen will easily advance to the second round of voting as she rides populist fuel from Brexit and Mr. Trump’s election. Who she will compete against, however, is unclear because incumbent President Francois Hollande is not standing for a second term amid growing unpopularity.

An investigation into whether the former favorite, Francois Fillon, arranged no-show jobs for his wife and children is damaging his campaign. Jean-Luc Mélenchon departed the left of center Socialist Party last year and his campaign’s polarizing rhetoric is akin to that U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. But Mélenchon has not been able to break through as more moderate Socialist Democrats have stuck with a party loyalist, Benoit Hamon.

The result? A recent poll has centrist Emmanuel Macron advancing to the runoff against Ms. Le Pen, and beating her by 32 percent. A moderate, Macron started own political party last year amid dissatisfaction with the political establishment and became En Marche!’s first presidential candidate.

The 39 year old faces attacks from the left (they call him a “rightwinger”) and by the right (they call him “shallow” and “fake”). The fact that from both sides of the political aisle are critiquing him, may actually be indicating to moderate voters that they’ve found their leader; University of Houston professor, Robert Zaretsky, writes:

Macron — despite not having the support of an established party, or perhaps because he doesn’t — is no longer the dark horse but instead the white knight for a growing number of French voters.

Speaking english in Germany last month, he pleaded for more European cooperation not less.  He’s urged France to keep their borders open to the world. He’s promised to deregulate a stagnant economy and extended an olive branch to U.S. climate scientists to continue their important work in France in the wake of climate skeptic President Trump’s election.

In short, Macron’s takes the best policy ideas from both sides of the political aisle and discards the bad ones. The most compelling part of his campaign, however, has nothing to do with policy. Rather, it is his dedication to fixing a political system he says no longer protects the people it should that captivates voters. Like President Trump, he has criticized incumbent politicians for self dealing and dysfunction. Unlike President Trump, he has promised to work with all sides of the political spectrum and has put forward progressive ideas to do so.

Macron proposes reforming the French Parliament by allowing more proportional representation. He seeks reforms that would make ministers more accountable to parliament and speed up the lawmaking process. One radical proposal is to create a randomly selected committee of citizens who could regularly question the President.

In a rally last year, he noted that “When politics is no longer a mission but a profession, politicians become more self-serving than public servants.” And instead of just resisting those holding power, he’s pledged to seek reform too, declaring, “We can't fix the real problems if we only cauterize and don't treat the roots of evil.”

Emmanuel Macron was once a long shot candidate with no elected leaders endorsing him or donors to bankroll his campaign. Now, it seems that France may buck the global populist wave and elect a pragmatic candidate offering a third way.