So, the polls were right. Centrist Emmanuel Macron will face Front National leader Marine Le Pen in a head-to-head contest on May 7 to be the next president of France. Every indication is that it will be Macron who triumphs. Not a single survey has Le Pen scoring within 20 percentage points of him in two weeks’ time. The charismatic young leader – still only 39 – will be easy to back for those who did not have him as first choice, but now find themselves in the “anyone but Le Pen” camp.
But though there will certainly be delight in Brussels and Berlin at the likely election of a Europhile, this is no time on their part – or on Macron’s – for hubrisitic celebration. France remains bitterly divided. Almost half its voters backed candidates who loathe the European Union. And while the extremists look likely to be kept from power this time, politics as usual will only see a yet stronger turnout for them at the next election. A winning turnout, perhaps.
Monsieur Macron therefore has a solemn task – a last chance to reform France and reverse the utter disillusion that many French people feel about their leaders. It will not be easy, not least because his fledgling movement has no elected representatives and will have to fight from scratch in June’s parliamentary elections. But, in his rapid rise, Macron has already shown himself capable of what many thought impossible.