Emmanuel Macron’s victory has clearly demonstrated France’s belief in an open economy that wants to reach out to the world. In many ways it is a “shock” victory. The far-right has been on a global upswing. Brexit and Trump’s presidency clearly showed that we are living in the “Age of Anger.” And although Austria and Netherlands held the far right tsunami to its course, the unprecedented votes polled to their candidates (and Le Pen’s party) is highest in Europe than it has ever been in history.
However, Macron’s victory seems to have halted the juggernaut of such extremist ideologies and tilts the balance slightly towards the centre. What that means is a victory for rational, logical thinking and a counter-punch to post-truth and jingoism. Le Pen was everything one could characterise with hatred, fear and negativity. Macron gives hope, optimism and a sense of openness that is much needed in the post-Brexit era.
The biggest respite therefore has gone to Brussels, headquarters of the European Union. Following up from the election outcomes in Netherlands, where pro-leave EU outfit was defeated, France’s election results have given a breather to the institution. The weight of Brexit seems to have eased off a little bit, and the anti-globalisation drift now stands arrested, if not corrected, bringing a much needed balance towards consolidating the notion of free trade and immigration. This will also send encouragement to the fight against racism across the globe, that were shaken by the rise of factionist and protectionist sentiments during Brexit, and subsequently Donald Trump’s victory. At the same time, it will hopefully demoralise anti-immigration sentiments from spreading too far within the larger western population. This could result in lesser hate attacks and a more conducive, peaceful environment for multicultural values to grow and prosper in the western world..
So what does this victory really mean for India, Europe and the world?
First, anti-immigration and protectionism thinking driven by jingoistic and populists’ measures have been a threat to growing economies like India. As we look to engage deeper with the new world order, we can less afford to have economic superpowers driven by hypernationalists such as Trump or Le Pen. They want to close their borders. With Indian tech companies being “forced” to hire American workers; US State Department cutting down on H1B Visas and a rise in hate crimes against Indians, the negative impact of Trump’s Presidency is coming out in full-force. It will take a lot from Prime Minister Modi’s diplomatic prowess to arrest this slide. While dealing with Macron, he will be much more relaxed. Modi seems to work well with liberal foreign leaders. His camaderie with Obama is well-documented. He got along very well with Hollande, the outgoing socialist President of France, demonstrated by his personal involvement at securing the Paris Agreement at COP 21, and the subsequent visit of Hollande as Guest of Honour during 2016 Republic Day celebrations. Angela Merkel supported Modi’s Make in India initiative that eventually led to its inauguration at the Hannover Messe. Not much can be said about his “friendship” with Trump at this moment.
For France to re-affirm its faith in an open, pro-immigration and a globalised world is a welcome sigh of relief for Indian diplomatic ties with France as well as the EU. Unlike his American counterpart, Macron will not pursue an emotionally charged campaign against foreign companies and labour operating in France. And this is good news for Indian businesses in France.
Second, the Macron Victory has put a jolt to hyper anxiety due to anti-immigration sentiments. France, like other developed western super-powers, has a strong influence in shaping sociological and cultural sentiments across the globe. In Trump’s America, more Indians, on average, have been victim of alleged hate-crimes than ever before. Reading about these alleged crimes that are inspired by protectionist and anti-immigration values so loudly pursued by Trump, has become a monthly phenomenon. Hopefully, Indians in France will not be subjected to this kind of fear mongering by rabid lunatics walking with guns in hands. This is after France having been subjected to two major terror attacks in the past couple of years, recording more victims than any western nation in the world. The ISIS had made France its biggest western target. But France resisted the idea of Islamophobia. It speaks volumes about the resilience and common-sense showed by the French people. Now, more than ever, is the need to counter terrorism and defeat the ISIS. Steps in this direction have to be taken strategically and powerfully, without casting fear in the minds of the people, something Donald Trump is adept at.
Third, irrational decisions, thrilling maybe, are still irrational and illogical. Brexit sounded interesting. It sounded new. But at the end, it has landed the UK in a soup. The country is grappling with internal politics while facing an uncertain future in the face of its aftermath. So much so that the British Prime Minister, to ensure her credibility and unity of the citizens towards Brexit, felt a need to call for mid-term elections. If a head of the state calls for a mid-term referendum (pun intended), it shows cracks in its internal polity and institutional mechanisms. Macron’s victory has given a boost to the idea of EU. Although he stated in the media that the EU must reform or he may trigger a “Frexit”, he is cautious enough to know that Frexit must be a last option available, and the one that may not be the best option. Unlike the UK, he is willing to work with EU and reform the institution from within – a more rational policy outcome. For India, EU’s disintegration and having to deal with each nation individually for trade agreements would have been a catastrophic burden on the nation’s diplomacy. The long pending India-EU free trade agreement has still not been finalised. Imagine having to repeat this process 28 times.
Fourth, Macron’s victory has also given a boost to the greatest threat to mankind today – Climate Change. US and European climate change policies have a direct impact on India. It affects funding for research and programmes, which is now going to be curtailed as Trump reduced the flow of aid. It will also give a free-hand to pro-coal narrative, which was countered so well by Obama and Hollande, leading to the signing of Paris agreement and getting all countries on board with unprecedented action plans to limit the rise of average temperatures till 2.0 degrees. It also led to more investments in India’s renewable energy programme, with the rest of the world riding on the wave of clean energy and exploring India as a market. With Trump making it clear that climate action and low-carbon movement is not on his agenda, expect a cut in aid, investments and technical assistance programmes from the US. A Le Pen victory would have signalled a similar outcome from France, and maybe even Europe in the long run. Under Macron, France will ensure support to developing nations like India that will re-affirm Europe’s commitment as well.
Fifth, the left is dying a slow death. This has been re-affirmed again and again (US, India, Netherlands, Austria), but it is still critical to understand this phenomenon, because the victor is not right but the centre. The ruling socialist party in France was characterised as an ineffective tool to fight terrorism and corruption. It’s a similar story to India and in some ways the USA. What’s interesting is the way such political frustrations fail to propel a transformational shift in the minds of the average French voter. Elections are also a tool to assess reactions of people to the ongoing political affairs. With Macron’s victory, a centrist, France showed its resilience to populism and pseudo-nationalists behaviour, yet managing to oust old fashioned left-wing ideology. This is unprecedented.
And finally, for a country deprived of a stable opposition, it also sends hope to India’s political future. A strong Government at the centre must always be complemented by a productive, stable opposition capable to lending its critique to progressive polity. A rigid and incompetent Congress with a fractured AAP is bad news for the balance of India’s political equation. For a progressive dialogue, a monologue is no substitute. The unfortunate reality is compounded mainly due to Congress’ and AAP’s failure to understand the pulse of the nation. In such situations, the writing is clearly on the wall – Congress’ political space is vacant to be filled. As the public discourse is now shaped by a fervour of national interest and show of strength, there is no room for vague, and often grey discourses that failed to channel the energy in a unified spirit. This is why public discourse is shaped by centre-right sentiments driven by a fever of self-realisation. Macron’s victory will hopefully inspire the rise of the centre that has been passive or non-existent till now. A centre that is capable of a progressive discourse in national interest and that is not affected by jingoist and populist sentiments that are characterised by a flavour of victimisation.