Expert Commentary

Macron Wins Landslide Victory in French Election: More of the Same?

Martin Michelot
Deputy Director, Europeum Institute for European Policy

Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency Sunday in a landslide victory over far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen – capturing 66.1 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 33.9.  President Donald Trump tweeted, “Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on his big win… I look very much forward to working with him!”

Macron’s win doesn’t mean the country is unified behind the centrist leader. According to four polls published Sunday, around one in four voters abstained, and a number of those who chose Macron did so as an anti-Le Pen decision, rather than a show of support for Macron. Now, Macron’s focus is on using this victory to propel his En Marche! party to leadership in June’s parliamentary elections. It’s unclear whether En Marche! will be able to field candidates in all 577 districts. Should he fail to gain a parliamentary majority, governing will be rough, potentially leaving him more of a  figurehead.

After the second round of parliamentary elections on June 18, there will be a better sense of whether Macron will be able to fulfill his campaign promises, which include closer European cooperation in the EU and maintaining a strong transatlantic relationship, while pushing a hard line on Russia. On Friday, Macron’s campaign was hit by hackers who leaked emails and other documents on a file-sharing website. The leaks are apparently a mix of real and fake documents. Some speculate the Russians are behind the hacking. Cybersecurity firm Trend Micro reported last month that a hacking group believed to be a Russian intelligence unit had, over the course of Macron’s campaign, been involved in cyber attacks on the campaign.

Martin Michelot, Deputy Director of the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy in Prague and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund, says Macron will likely take a similar approach to Russia as the current French Hollande administration. In fact, says Michelot, his entire defense and security policy platform looks to be more of the same. 

On defense and security, it is an understatement to say that French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s proposals represent a direct continuation of the policies of the past five years. With the French defense establishment supporting Macron – symbolized by the support that current Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian gave to Macron, and a campaign platform piloted largely internally in the Cabinet of the Minister – it is clear that a Macron presidency would continue on the path of making France a reliable and strong partner for the United States, NATO, and the European Union.

Reading Macron’s defense platform, therefore, provides an inside view of the long-term priorities the government has already set out for France’s defense. The platform reflects a candidate who has never, in his short political career, dealt with security and defense issues, or even foreign policy writ large, and who needs to prove to voters that they should have no concerns about his handling of these matters. In this context, the support of Le Drian, who has been identified as the most appreciated minister of the current (unpopular) government and who the armed forces widely support, is a boon to Macron’s credibility.

Macron has made his support of NATO crystal clear and insists that France must “honor its commitment to alliances” and “be a country on which its allies can rely.” This means there should be no changes in the French commitment to the deterrence efforts underway in the alliance’s eastern borders: France should maintain its engagements in the Enhanced Forward Presence in Estonia and Lithuania in 2017 and 2018 – implemented as a response to Russian adventurism in Ukraine and Syria and Russia’s own military buildup along its western border with the Baltics – and serve as a lead nation in the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in 2019 – a force designed to deploy at short notice in response to any threats against NATO countries.

No further significant commitments should be expected, even if availability of forces significantly increases – Macron has noted that the number of conflicts in the coming months and years may change the nature of operations and force requirements. He has also alluded to the potential downsizing or ending the 10,000-strong Opération Sentinelle, instituted in response to terror attacks in France in 2015 to protect the homeland, should circumstances change.

Closely connected to NATO, Macron has set 2025 as the target date for France reaching the (in)famous 2 percent of GDP on defense spending goal, a year later than what was agreed to at the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales, which many defense officials consider insufficient. This may simply be an issue of calculation, as Macron has pledged the defense budget will reach €50 billion by 2025, without counting pensions and extra costs committed to foreign deployments. If these figures are included, the budget could reach 2 percent by 2022, which is in line with the current expectations of the Ministry of Defense and the plans of the multiannual military programming law. The budget increase would cover the necessary modernization of the modules of French nuclear deterrence – sea and air – which Macron has pledged to keep. On the other hand, such a budget means that a second aircraft carrier, which opposing candidate Marine Le Pen and some others call for, would likely not to be commissioned during the Macron presidency.

France’s strategic priority would remain the fight against terrorism, inside and outside of its borders. None of the current deployments is questioned by Macron, who has made the support of states in the Sahel, where French forces are still deployed in the anti-terror Opération Barkhane, a focal point of his platform. France’s participation in the global coalition against ISIS is not a point of contention, and Macron has mirrored the current position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the need for the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria. Similarly, his position on Russia is in line with the Quai d’Orsay’s: dialogue with Russia to the extent necessary for deescalating the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, implementation of the Minsk agreements to deal with the conflict in Ukraine, and condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea.

On cyber, Macron has supported current cyber defense plans put forward by the Ministry of Defense. In line with a cyber doctrine currently under draft, Macron supports the creation of a cyber command that would carry out protection, neutralization, and response missions.

In order to meet the myriad 21st century challenges, Macron has made the reinforcement of European defense a major priority of his presidency, saying “our security should not rely [solely on] NATO.” He has, therefore, supported the discussions currently underway in Brussels to reinforce the security and defense role of the European Union.

Faced with the uncertainty resulting from future U.S. defense choices, and Brexit, the French government has doubled down on using the EU as a platform for increased cooperation among member states. Macron has offered his support for current initiatives such as the European Defense Fund, an initiative of the European Commission designed to boost the competitiveness of European defense industries; the Coordinated Annual Review on Defense, designed to harmonize European procurement and planning processes; and establishment of an EU headquarters for military missions. Macron also expressed support for enhancing the financial mechanisms that govern the deployment of EU battle groups to facilitate their activation and use, giving the EU a quick-response force if a situation requires it. Finally, it is likely that Macron would support the activation of permanent structured cooperation, an EU disposition that allows a small group of countries to pursue harmonization on specific policy issues within the EU framework.

His blanket support for the reinforcement of EU defense structures is part of the improved relationship with Germany that he has pledged; Paris and Berlin would clearly be in the driver’s seat of European defense in order to improve, modernize, and share the continent’s capabilities.

The Author is Martin Michelot

Martin Michelot is the Deputy Director of the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy in Prague, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Paris office of German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Learn more about The Cipher's Network here