By Rajeev Sharma
Yes, the thumping victory of Emmanuel Macron in the just-concluded French presidential elections does denote that the right-wing surge triggered by Donald Trump’s victory in US presidential polls last year has been pushed back.
But hold your horses, folks.
Macron has just won a battle, but is yet to win the war. Also, it is prudent to await the outcome of the German federal elections on September 24, 2017, to arrive at a clearer picture which way is the European politics heading and whether Macron’s victory is part of a larger political trend or a mere flash in the pan.
There are four compelling reasons that should be taken into consideration, all of which suggest that the anti-EU, anti-immigration and virtually anti-Islamist forces whom Macron defeated still retain considerable pockets of influence all over Europe.
The 39-year-old Macron has indeed scripted history by becoming the youngest-ever president of France, but his electoral achievement will remain notional if he doesn't repeat this performance in next month’s National Assembly election. His newly formed party doesn't have a single seat in parliament as of now. Yes, he is relatively unknown entity in the French political space (compared to his political opponents), and is having a clean slate may actually work in his favour. But elections are elections and you become a political force to reckon with only if you win votes.
Le Pen, whom he defeated on May 7, hasn't lost her political relevance or appeal. On the contrary, she managed to double her party's vote in these elections. Indications are that she is most likely to adopt a new political approach to have a go at next month’s parliamentary polls. In case, Macron is not able to repeat his performance in the upcoming polls or Le Pen and other political rivals of Macron are able to come up with a much stronger performance, Macron will prove to be a lame-duck president as without a functional majority in parliament he will not be able to implement his promises of reforms which he had made during the presidential campaign.
That's why Macron may have won a battle, but the real war is still staring in the face and is yet to be won. Any upsets for him will once again pose a question mark on whether his victory in the presidential elections could truly be seen as stalling of the far-right surge. However, if he were to pull off an impressive victory in the parliamentary polls, it would still not mean that the anti-liberals and conservatives are done and dusted. See the examples of Netherlands and Austria below.
In March 2017, the Netherlands heralded the surge against forces of parochial nationalist, anti-European Union and anti-Islam represented by the hardliner Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom. His fiery speeches and tough stand on immigration and his electoral plank of banning the Quran and closing all mosques in the country forced other right-leaning parties, too, to take tougher stance on opposing liberal immigration policies. But the stark truth is that Wilders may have lost the election but he was not a poor loser and he finished a close second.
Mark Rutte who eventually won the elections polled 21.3 per cent votes and got 33 seats (a loss of eight seats) while Wilders polled 13.1 per cent votes and got 20 seats (a gain of five seats). These figures should tell a tale.
Last year in Austria, the radical far-right, anti-liberal forces represented by Norbert Hofer of the anti-immigration Freedom Party narrowly lost to the centrist liberal Alexander Van der Bellen and the results remained the same in re-elections ordered by the top court of Austria. But the stunning fact to be considered here is that Hofer garnered as much as 49.7 per cent votes. So, what does it show? It shows that the simmering revolt against the pro-immigration liberals continues and the forces representing the far-right European populism remain extremely potent and vibrant. These forces don't have just a toe-hold in the power corridors but much more than that.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who stood like the Rock of Gibraltar in favour of immigrants during the worst immigrant crisis of last year and has been repeatedly criticised by Donald Trump for this, will be pitching for her fourth consecutive victory in the forthcoming general elections in September. But the question is will she be able to make it? In many ways, the German elections will be as much important, if not more, as the French presidential elections. The German election results may well be the correct marker to gauge the political mood in Europe.
Merkel is still going strong and uncertainty over the political future of Frauke Petry, leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany party which had won 14.1 per cent votes in German state elections last year, may work in Merkel’s favour. Petry, who months after attending an “alternative European summit” along with Le Pen and Wilders, had recently stunned all by saying that she may quit politics altogether. Informatively, her party’s unabashed electoral plank is that Islam doesn't belong in Germany and illegal immigrants need to be shot, not welcomed!