Populism Not So Popular?

Caroline Albacete '17, Editor-in-Chief

As May rolled around, all eyes turned toward France, a European and global powerhouse, to see which way the country would vote: the populist, nationalist Marine Le Pen of the National Front, or pro-EU centrist newcomer, Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! ? French elections took place on May seventh, under a period of media blackout that allowed conscientious voters the time to reevaluate which candidate they thought would be preferable. As was revealed on the morning of May 8th, that candidate happened to be Emmanuel Macron.

But what does that mean for France and the rest of the world? What will Macron’s victory and Le Pen’s defeat signal for the future? Does this mean an end to the populist wave that has swept the globe in recent years? It very well might.

Le Pen was the populist candidate on this occasion, a woman who claimed to support the true French population. She played on nationalistic sentiments throughout her campaign, and the fear festering within France about the current refugee crisis and the French role in aiding these people. Le Pen appealed to the unemployed and the lower class who are eager for change. She maintained a strict policy of anti-EU propaganda, feeling that France should follow Britain’s example and leave the EU behind. She was closely linked to Donald Trump, the current U.S. president, whom people label a populist leader. Her victory, following Trump’s own and the questionable success of the Brexit vote, would have led the world in different direction, one of isolationism and inward focus.

Macron, on the other hand, staunchly supported a pro-EU vision of the future, and while he maintained the image of a centrist, followed decidedly more modern and liberal ideals. He found a great deal of support among left-wing politicians. His France, the one he will take the next five years to build, will focus much more on European unity and finding a resolution to the question of immigration and national security without forgoing one in favor of the other.

In the end, Macron won with nearly two-thirds of the vote, leading 66% to 34%. As he leads France forward, we can only wonder if this will mean an end (for the moment) in the rise of populism across Europe. The elections of Trump and May – in the U.S. and Britain, respectively – signaled that populism might be making a comeback, but alongside Holland’s rejection of Greert Wilder, France’s election and Le Pen’s defeat might change that.

Now is a time of great distress across the world as tense situations in the Middle East and parts of Africa worsen, leaving millions of refugees with nowhere to turn. And the French people have voiced their opinion that the populist movement bent on isolation would not be the best government to handle such problems, but a government like Macron’s just might be able to.