The Penelope-gate scandal has rocked the run-up to the French presidential election. Not only has François Fillon’s honesty been called into question and his presidential campaign thrown into disarray, but it has facilitated the rise of centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.
One man’s loss is another man’s gain. Macron has seized the opportunity to regain left-leaning voters previously planning on voting for Fillon, adding to the already impressive coalition of supporters he himself has amassed since he resigned as Finance Minister last year. Were it not for Macron, Marine le Pen would be in a much stronger position than she is now. Without a relatively popular mainstream candidate to defeat her in the second round, she would be in an even stronger position to win the election. Fillon was – and for the moment still is – an unpopular candidate, but one for whom many were prepared to vote for in order to stop the Front National from holding office.
Many on the left in France would have had to sit through five years of massive cutbacks to the public sector and intense deregulation of the economy, running counter to their fundamental political outlook. Yet, they would have consoled themselves with the knowledge that the alternative outcome of the election could have been much, much worse. After the events of the last few weeks, this is no longer the case. The election is now not only about fighting the Front National, but also about providing concrete counter-arguments and a more inclusive political agenda. The French people now have the enviable position of being at the centre of the historic fight-back against the divisive rhetoric of hate-mongering nativism.
The movement Macron founded last year, ‘En Marche!’ (‘On the Move!’), is an example of how viable policy attracts widespread appeal, without veering off to either side of the political spectrum. This example should be followed by open-minded, liberal groups across the continent. Furthermore, it is well known that Macron is a Europhile, having been quoted as saying that Europe is “part of the solution, not the problem”. He is the answer to the question that many people, especially after Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory last November, have been asking – who now carries the torch of the progressive, pro-European movement?
He is the politician that many people have been pining for. Here in the UK, anti-Brexit campaigners have been labelled “remoaners”, vilified for being pro-EU and made to feel as though their opinion is invalid. Macron is unashamedly pro-Europe, believes in rational policy choices drawn from both the left and the right, and is not afraid to put his own political ambitions on the line to fight for what he believes in.
He believes in gradually increasing defence spending to two per cent of France’s GDP, something normally associated with the right; yet he also wants to introduce a ‘Culture Pass’ to make France’s vibrant cultural scene more accessible to young people.
His vision is not about going left or right but about going forward. Macron appears to be a politician who is equipped to deal with a rapidly changing world. His message is that we, in our role as citizens, must change with it: if we don’t, we run the very real risk of being left behind. The French people must recognise the opportunity that Macron’s candidacy presents – and they should seize it with both hands.