How New President Emmanuel Macron Can Be a Leader for France and for International Development

May 08, 2017

The people have spoken: Emmanuel Macron will be France’s new president. He was elected with a majority of around 66 percent in the run-off vote against right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen. Although never elected into a public office before, he and his movement ‘En Marche’ had remarkable success with their open, reformist and pro-Europeanist policies. However, with the parliamentary elections coming up in June, Macron needs a comfortable victory or a broad, robust coalition both for France’s role in international development and his presidency in order to be successful.

The challenge and opportunity of division and crisis

With 10.6 million votes for the right-wing candidate as well as 12 million voters abstaining and a further 4 million voters casting a white or invalid ballot, the results show a deeply divided country. With the numbers of people abstaining from the run-off vote, Emmanuel Macron’s policies did not convince the majority of voters. Marine Le Pen has promised more security, control, and protection. Protection from many forces of the modern world—such as migration and free trade. Le Pen, doubling the amount of votes her father achieved in 2002 (he won 18 percent in the run-off vote against Jacques Chirac in 2002), said—after admitting the defeat—that her Front National party would henceforward be the main opposition. This is yet to be seen, but in order to put in place the many changes promised in reform-adverse France, Macron will undoubtedly have to reach out to the almost 27 million voters that decided against him.

With a nation still in a state of emergency, with lagging productivity and a lingering unemployment rate around 10 percent (and an alarming one out of four among the youth unemployed), Macron inherits a country in crisis. Such a crisis presents a huge challenge, but also a unique opportunity for reform and reunification. Macron has to address the popular concerns of the third of French voters supporting the protectionist policies of Le Pen. Indeed, Macron declared in his victory speech that national reconciliation is his main challenge.

Macron’s victory also comes in times of vast global challenges and political rupture. In his conclusion of the presidential debate, he said that his main goal for the presidency was to counter France’s identity crisis with courageous policies and actions. Having in mind the numerous challenges the world faces and which can only be solved by global cooperation, a young French leader not bound to the policies and programs of the established parties—even in the event of a coalition government with other parties—presents a real opportunity, which includes deepening France’s commitment to international development.

What now for President Macron on France’s role in international development?

Despite the challenges ahead, this election result—in line with previous victories of open, pro-European parties in Austria and the Netherlands—is a strong sign for international solidarity, a reinforced Europe and open, inclusive policies. As laid out in my previous blog post on the French election and international development, Macron has committed to the 0.7 percent aid target and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. As an outspoken supporter of the European integration, his victory is good news for multilateral aid and the world’s poor. African countries were identified as the focus of international development under President Macron. On overseas aid, Macron’s commitment to Africa is highly important, especially after a first glimpse at President Trump’s vision for foreign aid, where many countries take a hit (e.g., Ethiopia down by US$140 million or Mozambique by US$142 million). However, Macron’s plans to keep aid separate from migration, increasing overseas aid and giving dedicated support to the Least Development Countries (LDC) in the way he suggested will not be enough. Macron should extend his courageous approach in more than just reconciling French voters’ concerns. As called for by the ONE campaign and contrary to international trends of decreased aid to the world’s poorest, the French president should give more than the suggested 0.15 percent overseas aid to the LDCs. Global solidarity should first and foremost include the world’s poorest, also by abolishing protectionist measures, thereby unconstraining free trade.

France is already highly committed to security on the African continent. After the vote, Macron signalled that his first visit abroad would be to the French troops in Mali, a strong sign that he wants to continue the various French missions in Africa. Confirming its commitment to the United Nations, as a permanent security council member, France plays an important role in providing and maintaining international security under the umbrella of the existing multilateral system.

Macron should also be ‘en marche’ with regards to the environment. The fight against global climate change was the grand absentee in the more than two hours of presidential debate a few days prior to the election. For a country whose capital lends its name to the most extensive climate agreement in history, this is worrisome. Climate change affects us all, but the world’s poorest are most vulnerable and most immediate in suffering its consequences. France is not a leader in environment-friendly policies—ranking 15 out of 27 in CGD’s Commitment to Development Index 2016—and could step up its efforts by significantly cutting its greenhouse gas emissions and working towards an increase in the use of renewable energies, amongst others.

Can Macron build on French voters’ views on development?

While he will undoubtedly meet fierce opposition to parts of his national reformist agenda, in terms of international development, he can count on the overall support of the French people. In the most recent Eurobarometer, a survey conducted by the European commission on international development, the French are among the European nations agreeing most strongly with the statement that tackling poverty in developing countries should be one of the main priorities of their respective national governments (Table 7). However, at the same time, out of all 28 EU nations, the French are among the least persuaded that supporting developing countries contributes to a fairer and more peaceful world (Table 11). This mirrors French voting behaviour—a nation that believes in international solidarity but is skeptical about the local benefits of both aid and globalisation.

While Emmanuel Macron has an immense task ahead, by creating a new and extremely successful political movement within months from scratch, and by becoming France’s youngest president, he has already demonstrated that he can achieve a great deal—sometimes with an unorthodox approach. He will now have the unique opportunity to deliver the change the French voters crave.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.