The re-election of President Emmanuel Macron of France is an exceptionally important event. This result overall is positive for the stability of Europe, Atlantic area relations and international relations generally.
Above all, the outcome confirms the institutional stability of France. This is important in terms of contemporary challenges in Europe, especially the war in Ukraine, as well as the longer-term history of France.
President Macron received just over 58 percent of the vote, against just under 42 percent for opponent Marine Le Pen. This margin, while decisive, is narrower than in 2017 when these same two candidates competed for the presidency.
Candidate Le Pen promises to continue to lead the struggle against established leaders and policies of her nation. She was polite in her concession speech, but also reiterated commitment to the populist goals of her rightwing National Rally Party.
Those positions include hostility to the European Union and regional cooperation generally, reinforced by her ties to President Vladimir Putin of Russia. After the 2016 presidential election in the United States, she was one of the first foreign leaders publicly to praise the victory of Donald Trump.
Most important is that the just-concluded presidential election and campaign reconfirms the stability of France’s domestic political structures and institutions of government. This is no small matter. Instability previously characterized France.
The decisive, stunning military defeat of the large, well-armed but woefully weak army of France in the spring of 1940 by the fast-moving blitzkrieg of Nazi Germany began four years of brutal humiliating occupation. Years of weak ineffective governments followed Allied liberation of France in 1944.
General Charles de Gaulle, exceptional leader of the Free French during the war, returned as leader of France in 1958. He succeeded in stabilizing the nation’s politics, and finally reestablished effective national authority and legitimacy.
A new constitution created a powerful presidency, which was key to long-term stability. A referendum in 1962 confirmed direct election of the president through universal suffrage. In 2000, a referendum reduced the presidential term from seven to five years.
In this century, the alliance with the U.S. has been strong. Immediately after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, French aircraft joined those of other NATO allies in patrolling the skies over North America. The struggle against al Qaeda and the Taliban represents a comprehensive collective enterprise, authorized and supported by the United Nations as well as the NATO alliance.
Earlier, long-term socialist President Francois Mitterrand was pragmatic in dealing with the United States. “An American Life,” President Ronald Reagan’s autobiography, portrays Mitterrand and his wife in warm terms, with emphasis on interpersonal rapport. This overcame specific disagreements on trade and missile deployment.
By contrast, President de Gaulle was almost constantly at odds with the Kennedy administration on strategy, including nuclear weapons, the future of European integration, and the structure of NATO.
De Gaulle was also in power during President Dwight Eisenhower’s second term, but similar clashes were avoided. Ike developed good working rapport with the difficult, sometimes-insufferable French leader during World War II. While planning the Normandy invasion, American and British air commanders argued against heavy bombing, which would kill many civilians.
General Eisenhower was able to turn to General de Gaulle for vital support. Both deemed such bombing essential for success of the inherently extremely risky sea-based invasion.
In foreign policy, as in domestic politics, leadership is crucial
To learn more, see “In Search of France,” edited by Stanley Hoffmann.
Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War – American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He is also the director of the Clausen Center at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisc., and a Clausen Distinguished Professor. He welcomes questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.