The Macron Revolution: New Bottles, Old Whine?

When the great lion of the European project, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, died on the eve of French President Emmanuel Macron’s landslide legislative victory over the weekend, many could not resist the apparent symbolism. It was as if one generation of European integrationists was passing the torch to the next.

Mr. Kohl, a classic pragmatist, led his country through the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, German reunification and the launch of the Euro. By the end of his tenure in 1998 he had, most notably through his partnership with French President François Mitterrand, forged a closer European union than would have been conceivable in his war-torn childhood.

Yesterday, Emmanuel Macron got the electoral mandate he needed not merely to consolidate that much-maligned union, but to actually advance it. Mr. Macron’s huge majority in legislative elections, winning six of every ten seats in the National Assembly, gives him the backing he needs to proceed with his bold plans. Moreover, the fact that most of those elected are political novices – a deliberate outcome, since Mr. Macron created a new political movement in order to renew the French political system (and lord knows it needs it) – means that his legislators should remain quite disciplined for now. Without independent power-bases or portfolios stuffed with pledges and favours, his people in parliament will fall in line.

However, that creates risks for Mr Macron. Without detailed scrutiny within his party, any unforced errors he makes could go unchecked. Just ask Theresa May about the risks of over-centralisation. Much will therefore ride on the soundness of his plans to open up the French economy. At present, it resembles a China shop with an idiosyncratic owner, odd opening hours, long vacation closures, and staff that are in no particular rush to please (since it’s not in their contract). But it has its charms, and any China Mr Macron breaks will be his to own.

Record abstention levels on Sunday also put an asterisk next to that landslide. Nearly six in ten voters chose to take in the sun rather than queue outside polling stations, underscoring just how much Macron’s agenda divides France: a substantial minority love him and look to him to save their country from its worst instincts, a third loathe him and his plans to destroy what they love about France, and the remaining third are very much in a wait-and-see mode.

Voters from working-class districts, which disproportionately support politicians from the far left and far right, like Jean-Luc Melenchon and Marine Le Pen respectively, abstained in particularly large numbers. Mr Melenchon, the leader of France Unbowed, a coalition of communist and other radical groups, thus infers that what they chose not to do at the polling station, they might yet do on the streets. This will be where Mr Macron encounters his greatest opposition. Strikes and protests have stymied French presidents trying to change the country’s hidebound system before. If the unions decided to oppose his agenda en masse, they could conceivably bring the country to a standstill, regardless his parliamentary majority.

However, lest Mr Melenchon and Madame Le Pen make too much of the low turnout, the exit polls suggest it was as much complacency as hostility which kept French voters at home in the final round of the elections. Turnout by Macron supporters fell from the first round of voting to the second, with many seeing the election outcome as secured (something about which they were not, of course, mistaken). Melenchon and LePen supporters, by contrast, having stayed at home the previous Sunday, turned out in larger numbers for fear their parties might not make it into the assembly. That surge rescued the places in parliament for France Unbowed and Mrs Le Pen’s National Front.

Thus, Mr Macron has a clear mandate, but it is not unconditional. His task is clear. He has to move very quickly on enacting his agenda, then hope his German ally Angela Merkel wins a strong mandate in Germany’s autumn elections. Thus, as the pain of his adjustment bites, as workers lose some job guarantees in order to reduce the costs of new businesses setting up, he has to keep prodding Mrs Merkel’s government to loosen Germany’s purse-strings. Most economists agree that Germany has become too prudent of late, and is living off exports to its weaker European neighbours. If Mrs Merkel is able to get her finance minister, the notoriously tight-fisted Wolfgang Schauble, to loosen spending to encourage European growth, Mr Macron might get a favourable wind in the sails of his ship.

All the while, he will need to find a way to keep his compatriots on board as the inevitable pushback to his reforms roils the streets. It will be a very tall order indeed. Happily for him, though, with the European economy on an upswing, there should be some external relief to France’s pain. And hey, he ain’t Theresa May, so things look comparatively bright for him.



Is This The Bonfire of Regulations?

We’ve all heard the stories of island natives who built ever-greater idols to their gods while despoiling their environment and ultimately destroying their society. The true tales of Easter Island join the wondrous legends of virgins thrown into volcanoes or holocausts to vengeful gods.

Last Wednesday morning, I rose to see an odd cloud formation hovering over London through my window. I quickly realised it was not a cloud, but a dense plume of smoke drifting westwards on the wind. Switching on the television, I saw images of the massive fire in Grenfell Tower, a high-rise residential just to the north.

The final death toll is still not known, and police say they may never be able to identify all the bodies they find in the wreckage. To universal acclaim, the emergency services responded with speed and courage, just as they had in the recent terrorist attacks. The community has opened its arms to the hundreds of victims, offering them food, clothing, shelter and money, via a fund-raising drive sponsored by a local newspaper. And the government has promised an inquiry, to get to the root of the fire’s cause.

However, very quickly, it emerged that residents had been warning authorities for years of the building’s dangerous conditions, to no avail. Experts had cautioned that the cladding used in the tower’s recent renovation, and many other high-rises, was a fire risk. Repeatedly, their calls went unheeded. While safer material would have raised the refurbishment cost by a paltry £5,000 – or less than £100 per life lost so far – politicians appear to have either resisted measures to restrict the use of cheaper materials, or taken a light-touch approach to enforcement, so as to encourage investment.

Such regulations and constraints on the movement of private business have been in the crosshairs of politicians for the last generation, with every instance of deregulation seen as an act of liberation from an oppressive state. Whether they speak of draining the swamp, as Donald Trump does, or of ‘bonfires of regulations,’ as has been the preference in the UK, politicians have taken to describing regulations as evil curses that must be purged. Yet as we now see, the market’s Savonarolas can extract a high price in human suffering.

After the fire, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for some of London’s vacant luxury homes to be requisitioned in order to house the hundreds of people left homeless by the fire. This measure was opposed on the grounds it would violate the legal rights of the owners. You get the logic. But take a step back and imagine yourself living in another time and place: a future anthropologist, beholding an ancient civilisation that left people in the streets rather than violate the sanctity of empty homes.

Of course, the argument for maintaining market principles at all cost is that they will lead to faster economic growth, ultimately benefiting us all. Yet even if we believe that, the conviction makes us resemble those ancient island natives much more than we would like to think. There was a rationale to the sacrifice of human lives before their idols, and for as long as the people believed their gods were happy, social order was maintained . So it goes today. For as long as we all believe in private property, the market can function. The wage of that faith is that sometimes, human lives must be sacrificed. 

In my new book, Twilight of the Money Gods, I look at the record of modern history, in which such things as famines were allowed to run their course on the grounds that to intervene would have distorted the market’s emergence. When our modern campaigns to create market societies are compared to the religious crusades of old, we reveal ourselves to be as willing as our ancestors to sacrifice human lives in the defense of the beliefs and principles we hold sacred.

As with any religion, our code justifies itself by saying that the sacrifice will serve us well. Islamist martyrs blow themselves up to attain eternal life, we accept that some people may burn in towering pyres. Stick with it through the pain and suffering, we hear time and again, for then like the ancient Jews we will pass through the sea to a Promised Land of abundance.

‘The sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath’ Christ told his followers. It’s a useful bit of wisdom for latter-day apostles of market fundamentalism. The market was made for man, and the notion that we should always adjust our lives to fit market dictates is just that, a notion. Clinging to it at all cost will lead the way of Savonarola. Like any religion, the message of our economic doctrine will only take root if the soil which receives the seed has been made receptive. If it is barren, the seed dies. And today, the people who can still see the Promised Land dwindles by the year, as our slavish devotion to the miracle of the free market leads us to tolerate societies in which inequality worsens by the day, and the poor are left to fend for themselves. If the market fundamentalists ignore the omens, they may one day find everyone starts looking for new gods.


Brexit Britain in Meltdown Mode

Is Brexit dead in the water?

Summertime London is lively and festive, but the locals have less spring in their step than the tourists.Theresa May called last week’s election to get a mandate for her brand of ‘hard Brexit.’ Planning to play tough with Europe, she said that if she didn’t get what she wanted, she would take her ball and go home. ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ she declared defiantly. Ludicrous though the claim may have been, shire Tories lapped it up.

In truth, there was no evidence to suggest that the slender majority who had voted for Brexit in last year’s referendum wanted to crash out of Europe, bar the cost. But those who questioned Mrs. May’s equation of Brexit to hard Brexit were cowed by her bullying, reminded constantly that anything less than support for her position revealed a closet desire to reverse the will of the people.

Then overnight, everything changed. Mrs. May’s hubris led her to believe she could coast to an enlarged majority, gaining the strong backing she needed to browbeat her European partners, merely by calling an election and turning up. Voters thought otherwise. In consequence, the many MPs in Mrs May’s Tory Party who reject a hard Brexit no longer feel intimidated. On the contrary, were the Prime Minister to forge ahead with her uncompromising plans, they would now feel both a right and duty to oppose her for doing just what she warneed against them: ignoring the will of the people.

In principle, Brexit must go ahead in some form. Given that both the Tories and Labour promised to do so, an overwhelming majority of the British public supported parties that said they would implement the referendum result. In practice, though, things just got really messy. Should Mrs May cobble together a coalition with the Democratic Unionists, she’ll gain a majority in the House of Commons of less than ten. Both the Eurosceptic and Europhile factions in her party are bigger than that. If she delivers anything less than a hard Brexit, the Eurosceptics will revolt. If she tries to please them, the Europhiles will do likewise.

Put simply, she can’t assemble a majority within her own party for any particular model of Brexit. That’s why government ministers have begun hinting they would like to talk with Labour politicians to see if they can get support for Brexit on the other side of the aisle. In principle, Labour could go along with this. But once again, in practice, it’s very complicated. Even though Labour’s manifesto supported a soft Brexit, it’s also pretty clear that for most voters – and certainly most Labour voters – Brexit was a secondary issue in the election. And the surge in first-time voters who powered Labour to an increase in its ranks tend to oppose Brexit.

Thus, Labour would demand its pound of flesh for any support it might give to a soft Brexit. In consequence, Britain would head to Brussels with a fragile coalition that would very likely splinter once the demands across the table toughened. Why wouldn’t they? Having spent the last year listening to Mrs May and her cabinet deride them as thugs and goons, EU governments are not likely in a mood to ease her discomfiture with anything more than a Brexit in name only.

So why not go to an election, in the hopes a new government has a strong mandate to break this logjam? Easier said than done. Every day that passes, the new uncertainty that hangs over Britain’s long-term future is giving corporate CEOs pause in their own decision-making. That investment to expand a plant now at capacity? Hold off making it until you know your access to export markets remains assured. And with everyone acting more cautiously, the British economy will slow.

It’s already done so dramatically. Britain, which finished last year a star performer in the G7, is now the slowest-growing economy of the lot. Meanwhile the collapse of the pound has driven prices higher than wage gains, squeezing real living standards for most people. Every day that passes in which people’s economic conditions worsen, another few more start hesitating about Brexit. Some Tories thus fear that were they to go back to the polls, Labour might defeat them, as sentiment turns against the ruling party. So they will do everything to avoid an election for now. That prolongs the uncertainty, which will further worsen the economic outlook, further prolonging the desire to avoid an election. Britain risks a downward spiral.

A year ago, I predicted that Britain’s ‘leave’ vote in the referendum would initiate such a spiral, gradually weakening support for the result. That prediction presumed a best-case scenario in the country’s politics. I hadn’t reckoned with the spectacularly inept performance of Mrs May’s ministry. Add that to the mix, and Britain may be in for a prolonged slump. If you’re one for schadenfreude, it’s a great time to be here.

Image: Shoppers in Oxford Circus

No, Theresa May Not

It is, quite simply, an astonishing result.

Prime Minister Theresa May wanted desperately to make Brexit the central issue of the snap election she called. She may have got her wish – and a lesson in being careful what you wish for.

Although opinion surveys suggested the Tories could return to power with a hugely increased majority, the campaign took place just as the economic impact of last year’s referendum result was starting to bite. Inflation is rising, real wages are declining, and the economy has slowed markedly. Faced with the inevitable government cuts that would result, the Conservative manifesto suggested some cuts to pensions and health care for retirees.

Needless to say, that didn’t go over too well with this core Tory constituency. As their enthusiasm to vote inevitably waned, young voters, who dislike Brexit as uch as they like Labour, were apparently keen to make amends for their apathy in last year’s referendum. As happened in last year’s Democratic primaries, a stampede of youth activism triggered an earthquake, stunning the political establishment.

In addition, the Tories and their allies in the press committed a simple, but stupid error. Setting out to demonise the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, they wholly succeeded in drawing an image in the public mind of a man who made Lenin look like a country vicar. As the campaign began, Tory leads in opinion polls were far into the double digits. Mrs. May, who went into the election with a slender majority, was expected to score – to use the technical term Britons employ — a stonking majority.

However, the former Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, who had been on track to win his own election two years ago, could have warned the Tories about the dangers of succeeding too well in this kind of negative politics.  Back in 2015, Canada’s Tories had successfully portrayed the Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, as a vapid lightweight – one devastating attack attack picturing an imaginary focus-group which, searching for something notable to say about him, could only come up with ‘nice hair.’ This image stuck in Canadian minds, but created an obvious risk. All Mr. Trudeau had to do was was look half-way competent – and he more than pulled that off in the campaign – and he would exceed expectations.

The rest, we know, is history (as is Mr. Harper). Theresa May’s campaign slogan of  ‘strong and stable leadership’ was meant to contrast her steady hands with Jeremy Corbyn’s loony leftism. All Mr. Corbyn had to do was look moderately competent, and disgruntled Labour voters were going to come back to the fold. He did that, and more. Meanwhile Theresa May’s own campaign committed a number of own-goals and gaffes which made her strong and stable leadership mantra look a little laughable by comparison. Poor Mrs. May will now join David Cameron in British history’s hall of infamy – that hall stuffed with politicians beset by infamously bad judgment. She’s done the equivalent of running a 100-metre sprint with a 20-metre head-start against a bloke with a gimpy leg, and still finishing in a draw.

After Donald Trump’s election last year, populists like Nigel Farage imagined that Brexit had sparked a fire which was now going to rage across the West, and predicted far-right parties would topple one European country after another. But earlier this year, I wondered if Mr Trump’s election was going to have the opposite effect. Now, with results in from the Netherlands, France and now Britain, we can conclusively say the populist tide is going into reverse. Nigel Farage’s own party, UKIP, collapsed last night. Mrs May will no doubt be slapping her head that she ever flew to Washington to hold Mr. Trump’s hand before the cameras early this year. Nigel Farage may have liked it, but it may well have energised Labour voters.

It’s hard to overtate the change which has taken place in British politics. A Labour leader and platform that would have been considered unimaginably radical just a few years ago has now been approved by a considerable portion of the electorate. The similarity to Bernie Sanders’s narrative is obvious, as is the energy driving the leftward tilt: young voters, marginalised for years by Conservative policies that put most of the burden on their shoulders while protecting pensioners, and who have cried ‘enough.’ We are living in interesting times.

Where does this leave Brexit? Well, nobody has much of a mandate for anything at the moment. There was always bound to be a lot of uncertainty once negotiations with the European Union began, uncertainty which would make the economy more fragile. That uncertainty has just been compounded.  So if you’re thinking of planning a British holiday, now would be a good time to look at tickets. The pound will remain weak, the economy will slump, and London’s notoriously-expensive prices will finally start to look reasonable to foreign visitors.

Will Donald Trump Be Impeached?

Don’t count on it.

At the rate he’s moving, Donald Trump might just win himself the place in America’s history books as its worst-ever president. Barely five months into his first term, a clear majority of his compatriots disapprove of the job he is doing. Despite his brave talk, his legislative agenda is sinking into the mud. His administration is understaffed and dysfunctional. He is shredding alliances built up over generations and turning America’s image in the wider world from leader of the West into something more akin to a banana republic. And the noose of suspicion around his White House tightens by the day, as details of the investigation into possible collusion with the Russians during his campaign are leaked to the public.

As a result, betting shops are narrowing the odds that he will become the first President in US history to be removed by impeachment. But if you’re one of the many who are hoping that Congress will end this horror show, well, you might want to pop a Xanax.

Donald J. Trump, fan of autocrats whose own commitment to democratic norms looks iffy, may well be a threat to the republic. But that’s just why his followers put him in the White House. This is America’s revolt of the sans-culottes, furious at the neglect of their country’s aristocrats – its oligarchs, its experts, its Beltway elites. Seeing Washington DC smashed to bits is precisely what they want. They couldn’t care less if the Bastille is a heritage site, they want it burned to the ground.

As a result, while most Americans dislike and even loathe Trump, a strong majority of Republicans still approve of the job he is doing. The base he turned out at his campaign rallies still adore him. He remains the messiah who will restore the country that was taken from them. Democrats can talk all they want of riding an angry wave into the mid-term elections and taking back the House of Representatives. Their problem is that their supporters are crowded into the coastal cities, where their margins of victory can be huge. Republicans, on the other hand, are spread across middle America – the so-called flyover states – where their hold on most seats remains secure for now. For as long as Republican voters stand by their man, that won’t change.

Hillary Clinton’s defeat in last autumn’s election should have made it clear to Democrats that running as the anti-Trump is not sufficient to secure victory. In the recent special elections, local issues dominate, and voters have been more concerned with mundane issues, like health care. If they are to excite people to action, to the point they can retake the House and begin impeachment proceedings, Democrats need to give the people a narrative with a clear and satisfying plot.

Donald Trump’s narrative may be mendacious and bigoted, but it’s one his followers get. ‘Make America Great Again’ is simple, catchy, and embodies an entire worldview – a classic fall-and redemption tale of the sort that is a perennial favourite in American cinemas. Simple, decent, neighbourly folk live in a land of prosperity and contentment; self-serving elites come along to con them out of their calm and happy life, leaving them poor and despised; then along comes a hero who says ‘I can lead you back to the Promised Land.’

Of course it’s a pack of lies. But trying to fight this narrative with constant fact-checking is impotent – and probably based on false reasoning. People seldom judge a politician’s statements by their veracity, but by what they reveal of his or her character and worldview. Doctrines triumph not when they are shown to be true, but when people believe them to be true. What Democrats need to do is give people a story they can believe in, and live by. But rather than start with their plot and characters, the Democratic approach to crafting a narrative is to assemble together hundreds of discrete sentences, each written to appeal to one particular sliver of the audience, and then sticking some anodyne, vapid title on it. And if you point out that the resulting story has no beginning, no end, no climax, no clear message, they will reply, bemused, that it doesn’t matter because all of the sentences were focus-grouped.

On the path we’re on, Congress will stay Republican, Trump will not be impeached, and Democrats may still be screaming themselves to exhaustion in 2020, as he toasts his re-election. The opposition needs to craft a new ‘Once upon a time in America’ that will lure people away from the poisonous, but coherent, tale they have been given.

The UK Election Just Got Interesting

When Theresa May called a snap election for 8 June, the reasons seemed obvious. With the economic slowdown that was anticipated after the country voted to leave the European Union last year now beginning, and with negotiations over Brexit expected to be tough and to possibly worsen short-term economic conditions, the risk was that sentiment would turn against Brexit right about the time she had to return to the polls, in 2019. Since her Conservatives enjoyed a massive poll lead over the opposition Labour Party, it seemed an opportune time to gain a strong mandate from the electorate, boosting her majority and securing a clear run through to the election.

The strategy for victory was clear. With Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn widely seen as a left-wing loon, all she had to do was repeatedly promise ‘strong and stable’ leadership to remind Britons that they didn’t want him in Downing Street. Unfortunately for her, things didn’t go to plan.

First off, the Labour manifesto turned out to strike a lot of positive chords with the British electorate. On the campaign trail, Mr Corbyn has so far failed to fulfill Tory expectations to repeatedly inflict wounds on himself and his party. Meanwhile, the Tory manifesto launch was so badly-done it seemed to belie Mrs May’s reputation for strong and stable leadership. Several of its proposals – scrapping the triple-lock on pensions, means-testing winter fuel subsidies for the elderly, and shifting the burden of care for some elderly patients from the state onto their families – proved unpopular with one of the Tories’ key constituencies, older voters. In the last case, Mrs May scrapped the plan within days of its launch when it became apparent even her own party disliked it. Immediately, wags began to ask if this is how she’ll handle Brexit negotiations as well: strong and stable leadership, followed almost at once by waffling and a change of heart.

Polls have been showing a steady narrowing of the gap between the Tories and Labour, and over the weekend the gap between the two parties moved into the single digits. In itself, this needn’t worry Tories, since the margin is still more than large enough to deliver them an increased majority were an election held today. What does worry them is that the election isn’t being held today, it’s being held next week. Should this narrowing trend continue, the election could conceivably become competitive in a way that looked unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

There’s a wild card that can affect the outcome, but which nobody can predict. The rule of thumb in Britain, as in most Western countries, is that older people turn out to vote in much larger numbers than first-time voters. Given that Labour enjoys a twenty-point lead over the Conservatives in support among first-time voters, if this rule holds once more, the Conservative poll lead will be magnified by actual turnout on polling day. All this narrowing of the polls will then be much ado about nothing.

However, it is just possible that things will get upended this time around. It’s clear that pensioners haven’t been excited by Theresa May in the way young voters have by Jeremy Corbyn. There has been a surge in registrations by first-time voters compared to both the last election and the Brexit referendum. ‘Bregret’ may not yet have sunk into the Leave constituency since the referendum. But with the economic news now getting bad, and likely to stay that way, that is likely to change. I predicted early this year that the British economy would start slowing just as the European economy picked up speed, confounding the Brexiteers’ narrative that Europe was holding Britain back. That’s now come to pass. If older voters and Brexiteers feel marginally less enthusaistic about voting than they did last June, whereas first-time voters take the opportunity they forewent last June to make their views heard, it’s even possible the surveys might even be understating Labour support.

Back in January, I wrote that Donald Trump’s election might have the unintended consequence of stemming the populist tide he wanted to unleash across Europe. With Europe’s leaders now circling the wagons to defend their vision of a unified West, and Donald Trump’s recent European tour seeming to signal his willingness to take America outside the club, Theresa May could be feeling increasingly lonely on the world stage. Her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ pitch may not be the easy sell it was just a few months ago. The current betting is that the Tories will still return to power next week with an in increased majority. However this race, which began as a long-odds yawner, could yet have an exciting home-stretch.


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In France, Europe Finds A Slender Hope

The French presidential election seemed like a collective primal scream, the electorate emptying itself of every emotion. Like the catharsis in a classical Greek drama, everything got left on the floor. Fury? Yup, the established parties were rejected outright. Hope? That would be Emmanuel Macron on stage. Anger? That was Jean-Luc Melenchon speaking. Resentment, bitterness? Marine LePen appeared. Fear and trepidation? See Francois Fillon.

So you can pick among the shards of this collective venting to find the pieces of any narrative you want to write. In the English-speaking world, and especially the business press, the dominant story for a long time has been that Europe is on the brink of implosion, and France the country that might set it off. The Fifth Republic is certainly in a bad way. Its sluggish and hide-bound economy and heavy debt leave the government little room for manoeuvre at a time when the demands on public resources continue rising.

As for the European project, it’s sputtering. Built atop an idealised vision of an alternative model for the West from the dominant, post-war American one, European integrationists promoted a vision of a community of nations that was liberal, open and tolerant, with an approach to the world that privileged friendly nudges over big sticks. This vision has, however, been tattered for some time, Europe having sunk over the last two decades into a neoliberal mire. Growing discontent at this drift finally exploded into the open after the global financial crises, and the punishing austerity which then followed for ordinary Europeans. A wave of anger at Brussels across the continent has since propelled radicals and populists towards power in Spain and Greece, with surges in Italy, Germany and now France. In response, self-congratulatory strains of populist rhetoric have begun emerging from London and Washington, DC in the wake of the Brexit and presidential votes, respectively, saying that the spark lit initially in London in last June’s referendum has set off a fire that will consume the West and burn the globalist Establishment to the ground.

Then again, it might not. I detected early signs of populism’s peak in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, and the evidence from Europe continues to suggest that, quietly, tentatively, Europeans are pulling back from radical solutions for now. Right-wing populists disappointed in March’s Dutch elections. In France, the National Front’s hope of approaching 30% in the first-round vote and then using that as a springboard into the second, which seemed not unreasonable a few months back, was dashed two weeks ago. When in the dying hours of the campaign the Macron campaigns emails were hacked and dumped onto the Intenet, the right-wing twitterverse went into overdrive, framing this as the next battle in the assault on globalism. To no avail. And if recent poll trends are anything to go by, the globalist fight-back continues: Germany’s far-right Alternative party, which had been well into the double-digits just a few months back, has seen its popularity fall sharply since the new year.

None of this translates into a new vote of confidence in the European project, let alone globalisation. After all, nearly half of France’s voters initially supported candidates who opposed it – far more than the quarter lured by Macron’s Europhilia in the first round. And while Macron talks of renewing Europe, the challenges are immense. There probably needs to be a top-to-bottom redesign of the model if there is to be any hope of salvaging it, but it’s not clear that anyone has a mandate to do this. Still, it’s significant that for all their grumbling, the voters of France decided to give Europe another chance.

In his speech after the first round, Emmanuel Macron seemed more subdued than jubilant, as if he appreciated the weight of the task ahead of him. Declaring that he wanted to become the President of all French, he now faces a monumental task in trying to forge unity amid deep division. He must reform an economy which is fundamentally sick, help forge a model of European integration that pays heed to the rising economic and cultural anxieties of millions of his compatriots, and do it all without the support of an established party to mobilise support for change.

His first step will be to try and cobble together a majority in support of his legislative agenda in June’s parliamentary elections. His ‘En Marche’ movement is barely a year old. The energy of his supporters will probably carry his momentum forward, but he will have to rely on the institutional support of Republicans and Socialists willing to coalesce in some form around his platform. It’s not impossible, but he will have to show tremendous skill if he is to avoid the fate of recent French presidents, and running aground.

Perhaps the most that a Europhile can take from the French election is that it is a stay of execution for a project whose declarations of death have so far proved premature. The populists in Britain and the US, who imagined they had stormed the Bastille, may yet find themselves alone outside its gates.