Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election against Marine Le Pen by a margin of almost 2 to 11. Macron, although having spent two years as economy minister under the unpopular Socialist François Hollande, clearly had the political nous to understand the mood of disillusionment with the status quo. In just under a year, he built a movement En Marche! (Onward) which he defines as ‘neither left nor right’. He is economically liberal and pro-business, but is socially progressive. He is not fond of the term ‘centrist’ and is apparently open to ideas from wherever they come2. Hopefully, this means he is intelligent enough to not be an ideologue.
Despite having been a member of the Socialist Party, he served in the civil service and coordinated a commission to produce a pro-business plan for boosting growth and competition under the right-wing Republican president Nicolas Sarkozy. Subsequently, he worked for the Rothschild investment bank, a feature of his history that had been used by Le Pen to cast aspersions, not so much for being a banker, but for where he worked3.
Marine Le Pen, the youngest daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former leader of the Front National (FN) and a convicted racist, who only last year repeated the old anti-Semitic slur that the Nazi gas chambers were a ‘detail of history’4. Since effectively expelling her father from FN for such comments, she has tried to make the FN less obviously racist, and these efforts have largely been successful. However, there are some parts of her humanising efforts, which have alienated some of the FN hard core. These include her socially liberal tendencies and attempts or make FN attractive to women or even some immigrants. These make FN much like other parties on the right (e.g. the Republicans), which perhaps explains her 34% showing in the election. This was far above the 24% popularity rating of FN in opinion polls. As James Shields (professor of French politics at Aston University) states “the clear blue water between the FN and the other parties has been disappearing and disappearing”4.
Le Pen was also seen visiting Vladimir Putin in Moscow in late March. This is because FN had a problem with French banks not lending it money for her campaign. This was apparently due to FN’s racist and anti-Semitic past. So, she flew to Moscow to obtain a loan from the richest person on the planet, the kleptocrat Putin. At this meeting, Putin laughably stated ‘of course, we do not want to influence events in any way’5. It appears that Putin’s trolls and bots got to work late in the presidential campaign, spreading rumours on Twitter that Macron had a secret offshore bank account, and that he was secretly gay6.
En Marche’s e-mail system was hacked some weeks before the election, but only acknowledged a couple of days before voting began, with as much as 9 Gb of data posted to a profile named EMLEAKS on Pastebin, an anonymous document sharing site7. However, the French Presidential Electoral Commission ordered news outlets in France not to publish or republish any of the hacked material under the political blackout that came into effect at midnight on Friday, before the Sunday election. Publishing or republishing this material after this cutoff could lead to journalists or news services being subject to criminal charges. Indeed, Macron was not even allowed to comment on the hacking or the content of the hack.
The hackers had not only copied e-mails but had mixed fake documents with real documents to try to derail Macron’s campaign. Cybersecurity companies Flashpoint and Trend Micro suggest that the hacking group which attacked En Marche was the same as that responsible for the attack on the Democratic Party during the US presidential election. This group (known as APT28, Fancy Bear or Pawn Storm) are linked to the GRU, the Russian Military Intelligence9.
One of the rarely mentioned factors in Le Pen’s defeat is almost certainly the ‘Trump Effect’. The French electorate looked at how Trump has made the USA a laughing stock, and enough of them have said “merde, non!” Vive la France!