And we think of American politics deeply divided! Consider the results of the first round of the Presidential elections in France. Winner, Centrist Emmanuel Macron got 24%, far-right populist Marine Le Pen got 21%, while the old right elitist Francois Fillon and the far left leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon each came it at 20%. Portrait of a country split, remarkably evenly, in 4.
Then came the second, final round, between Macron and LePen, the top 2 finishers. Macron won decisively 61% to 39. He won more Fillon voters than LePen did by a 4 to 3 margin, and with Melenchon voters Macron did even better, winning them from Le Pen by a margin of more than 4 to 1.
Those are the folks who are unhappiest about what’s happened since. Emmanuel Macron has made a well-respected maker of environmental TV documentaries his Minister of Ecological Transition, a title that hints that Nicolas Hulot’s Job 1 is transitioning France from 75% dependence on nuclear energy to more investment in wind and solar technologies.
But beyond the greener power grid, the big jobs – Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and the people in the big chairs in the Cabinet are all considered conservatives. The Economy will be in the hands of free-market conservatives, bent on freeing up capital for investment while reducing labor protections and pension benefits.
For internal security and foreign affairs, Macron has also gone use of force conservative. Interior Minister Gerard Collomb as Mayor of Lyon, France’s second city, prevented crime and terrorism through wide-spread use of surveillance video cameras. A key question is how he plans to fulfill his promise to prevent some French youth from “falling into radicalization.”
The new Foreign Minister is Jean-Yves Le Drian, who had been former President Hollande’s Defense Chief, a job in which he ran the French military operation in Mali and sub-Saharan Africa. 4 years later and close to 4000 French troops are still in Mali and 8 other African Countries from Djibouti to Mauretania, with the biggest contingent by far bogged down in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some, including Le Drian see this as a necessary commitment to the war against Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, but others just see a quagmire that’s cost the lives of 19 French soldiers. President Macron’s first big foreign trip is to West Africa, a sign of the importance he gives to the region.
In general, foreign wars are uniters in democracies. Especially when the death toll in 4 years hasn’t reached 2 dozen. Macron’s vow to move closer to the European Union could be a divider, but as with the Ecological Transition Ministry, the new title of the European and Foreign Ministry is a clear signal. What could make courting the EU popular is the prospect of the UK as a whipping boy in the BREXIT negotiations. Few French politicians have ever done badly running against the Brits.
Unifying a divided country will be Emmanuel Macron’s most important task. Marine LePen’s 39% was a very high water mark for her National Front. Macron needs to win over some, of her voters with a French Government that works, to cripple her very divisive movement. If he doesn’t, and she can grow her protest movement farther, she could prove a country split in 2 is even more endangered by one that – on one election day this year – went in 4 different directions at once.
Barry Lando, was for more than 25 years, one of the top producers on CBS News’ 60 Minutes where his work with correspondent Mike Wallace won many awards. He is the author of Web of Deceit-The History of Western Complicity in Iraq from Churchill to Kennedy to George W Bush, and a novel The Watchman’s File, about Israel’s most closely guarded secret (it’s not the bomb). Barry has a very lively blog site: http://barrymlando.com. He has lived in Paris for many years.