France this week decisively voted against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, with Emmanuel Macron coming out with a nearly 30-point lead against the National Front candidate. While much of the world breathes a sigh of relief, as – at least for now – another nationalist, leader has been stopped and the European Union lives to fight another day, many in France voted for Macron through gritted teeth. While his social policies seem much more palatable, many French voters described his economic policy as “neo-liberal,” with tax cuts planned for corporations, that would seem better suited for the United States than France.
Nevertheless, the self-described “centrist” positioned himself firmly as a defender of the EU, and as one who embraces plurality and diversity in French society. He even shared a video on Facebook with the message “France is your country,” to American academics and researchers whose work has come under threat in the Trump administration.
Here’s where he stands on key domestic and foreign policy issues that could impact the Middle East:
Immigration and Refugee Crisis
Macron has praised Angela Merkel’s open arms policy toward refugees, saying it “saved” Europe’s “collective dignity.” Macron has said that closing borders won’t make Europe any safer, but France has also suffered a number of attacks claimed by Daesh and al-Qaeda. The President-elect wants to counter the threat of future attacks by recruiting 10,000 more police officers and shutting down places of worship that espouse extremist ideology, according to Al Jazeera. But his platform also emphasized the need to integrate newcomers to French society by providing state-funded language classes and rehabilitating returned fighters who are willing to re-integrate into society. He has also called on France and other EU countries to take in their fair share of refugees.
Enforcing Secularism vs. Religious Freedom
Macron has said French politicians used the wrong tactics in targeting religious attire, particularly with the infamous burkini debacle. "No religion is a problem in France today," he said at a campaign rally in October. "If the state should be neutral, which is at the heart of secularism, we have a duty to let everybody practice their religion with dignity."
The Conflict in Syria
Following the chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, Macron called for an intervention against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Prior to the attack, he had emphasized the need for dialogue with the Assad government in order to end the war.
The Syrian rebel jihadist supporters are really pleased that Macron won. pic.twitter.com/7M1104KyTE— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) May 8, 2017
Palestine and Israel
France has attempted to restart peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians, but it may be more business as usual under the new presidency. Macron has voiced his support for the two-state solution, but won’t unilaterally recognize Palestine, saying it would damage France’s good relations with Israel. He has also come out against the BDS movement, saying that he “condemns all forms of boycott on the national and international level,” according to i24 News.
Le Pen’s Untold Victory
While Macron presented himself as neither left nor right, Le Pen has worked for the past decade to soften the extreme far-right image of the National Front Party her father founded. It remains to be seen whether Macron will be a fresh face or if societal problems in France will continue to fester and remain unresolved. But the fact that Le Pen made it to the final round in the presidential elections means that her party’s rhetoric – once viewed as extreme and fringe – has been normalized as part of the country’s dialogue. These ideas didn’t arrive overnight, and they won’t just vanish with a new face in office.
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