French leader must fulfill heavy responsibility for European stability

Voters in France might have considered the continued service of President Emmanuel Macron, who places importance on cohesion in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as the best way to ensure stability in their country and in Europe.

In the runoff for the French presidential election, centrist incumbent Macron was reelected, defeating Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally party.

This is the first time in 20 years that an incumbent president in France has been reelected since Jacques Chirac in 2002. Macron will continue to pursue international cooperation in diplomacy and reforms of the rigid pension system and labor market in domestic affairs for the next five years.

As for Macron’s achievements in his first term, he touted his efforts to revitalize the economy and reduce unemployment. Le Pen, on the other hand, tried to capture votes from people dissatisfied with price increases caused by the Ukraine crisis, but was unsuccessful.

There may be a growing recognition in France that economic sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine are necessary and that France must accept a certain blow to its own economy.

With the decline of established political parties, the previous structure of “leftist” versus “rightist” has disappeared in French politics, and the focus has shifted to “internationalism” versus “nationalism.”

The biggest issue in this election, too, was how to view relations with the EU and NATO.

Macron believes that France should play a leading role in promoting EU integration, and he has emphasized EU unity in dealing with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has also highly praised NATO as an indispensable player in Europe’s security.

In contrast, Le Pen has advocated a foreign policy that downplays the role of international organizations and insisted that the interests of France’s own people should be prioritized without being bound by the rules of the EU. She is reluctant to impose sanctions against Russia and presented a view that France should not engage in military cooperation with NATO.

If Le Pen had been elected, the EU and NATO would have been plunged into chaos over the Ukraine issue, and Europe’s stability would have been undermined. The worst-case scenario can be said to have been avoided.

The Ukraine crisis is forcing European countries to strengthen their security arrangements against Russia and review their energy supply systems. Given that there is no prospect for an early ceasefire, medium- to long-term measures are essential.

France has a major role to play. Macron has advocated security cooperation among EU member states, moves to break from dependence on Russia for the procurement of natural gas and other resources, and a return to nuclear power generation.

While bridging the difference in attitude with Germany, which has close economic ties with Russia, Paris needs to drive the EU forward together with Berlin.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 26, 2022)