Monday, May 8, 2017

New President, New Era?



Macron supporter at last night's celebration in Paris.
Source: AP, Francois Mori.

Last night we hunkered down in front of the TV set at 7:45 p.m. in anticipation of the historic moment. At 8 p.m. sharp, the polls were going to close in France, and the name of the new president was going to be announced. (Until then, the country imposes a media blackout.)

I felt a hush fall over France as the countdown proceeded: 3 … 2 … 1 … 

It was like watching the countdown on New Year’s Eve, or a countdown to blast-off. Would this be the beginning of an era? Or a countdown to catastrophe? I wedged myself on the sofa between my daughter and husband for moral and physical support.
And then the winner was announced: Emmanuel Macron. The 39-year-old leader of the brand-new party, En Marche!, won by a wide margin with 66% of the votes against the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. However, Macron was weak in rust-belt areas of France like Pittsburgh that have suffered from the decline of manufacturing. And a high number of voters didn't cast their ballots.

For us, as foreigners here in France, it was a relief. For me, who works in the world of finance, it was a relief. And for those who believe that the European Union is (generally) a good thing, it was a relief.

But it won’t be easy for the new president, who takes office in a few weeks. Macron has to build a cabinet and start campaigning for legislative elections. It’s uncertain whether the French people will give him a strong mandate to govern by electing En Marche! representatives.

Macron posters
in our neighborhood
I frankly don’t know much about Macron, but most people don't. He's new to the game and didn’t have much chance to win until the top candidate on the right became tainted by scandal. (Because Macron is so young, he doesn’t yet have a political past!) He’s by all accounts smart, reasonable, and likeable. Just a few days ago, one of his campaign workers handed me his program, a 32-page booklet of campaign promises. Many of them seem, again, reasonable. (By the way, all serious French candidates publish a “programme.” Good idea, U.S.!)

Regarding education, one area where I feel half-way competent to comment, Macron promises access to special needs assistants in schools to all children who need them, which is sorely needed. This in a country where special education is rare and where the educational system is in general denial about special needs. France is definitely behind the U.S. here, which made education a right for special needs children in 1975.

What I like most about Macron is his optimism and genuine love of France. It’s so refreshing in this great country that’s often mired in negativism.

With the election of Macron, I’m hoping that France will enter a new era of economic growth that lifts all boats. And I hope that last night’s blast-off won’t end in catastrophic failure but instead show the country new horizons.

Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Enter your email address into the “Follow me” box. Or find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.