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April 26, 2017

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Party over, now the hard work begins

Once the excitement about the first round subsides, soberness sets in. This is true for Macron himself, who after getting bashed for celebrating his success at the brasserie La Rotonde got a taste of what it is like for every gesture to be monitored and interpreted. And it is true also for all those commentators who now wonder how on earth France ended up in a situation like this.

The biggest danger for the second round is the temptation to abstain or to hand in an empty vote, out of disgust or disinterest, or for strategic reasons, writes l’Opinion. The mobilisation is not like in 2002, when Jean Marie Le Pen arrived in the second round and everyone mobilised to stop him from winning. The Front National no longer instils fear. No big demonstrations, no strong reaction from Macron. What about the other parties? Marine Le Pen is now actively seeking to get Jean Luc Mélenchon's voters, as they both fared well with the working class. Mélenchon gave his supporters one week to decide whether they want to vote blank or Macron, or abstain. 

The Socialists backed Macron right away, and Manuel Valls even dreams of a future cabinet position if Macron were to win the second round. No surprises here. The Republicans only called for a vote against Le Pen. This means they also implicitly endorse a blank vote (they explicitly excluded abstention) as one of the options. Alain Juppé rejected such a strategic positioning and reminded his supporters yesterday that the only way to beat Le Pen is by voting for Macron.

According to an Ifop survey, about 48% of Mélenchon voters could vote for Macron, 33% could abstain and 19% back Le Pen. And 47% of those who voted for Fillon could vote for Macron, 27% could abstain and 26% could vote Le Pen. 

Another question is about participation. In 2002, the prospect of a Le Pen win mobilised many more people than in the first round to come out and vote in the second round. But this time people might simply stay home, relying on the polls that suggest that Macron is winning with 60% against 40%. But this just adds another danger. And if Le Pen gets 40% it means that there is no reason to celebrate. 

Looking at social media, there is some strong activity to mobilise against Macron. And a realisation that Chirac did not hold back the rise of the FN, nor did any of his successors. Marine Le Pen is still the most divisive candidate. But on television her discourse was shifty, calling herself European, and presenting her vote as a revolt against the elites. Le Pen is no longer the leader of the Front National, but wants to be the president of patriots. So we might see more blank votes and less mobilisation against Le Pen. This will not make it easy for Macron.

Behind the scenes Macron started negotiations to build a majority for the legislative elections in June. If Macron wants to implement what he has promised he needs more progressive people from the right. So far only one Republican MP joined his team. There is a list of names the movement wishes to approach. Among them are Bruno Le Maire, Xavier Bertrand and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. But so far Republicans resist the temptation. Many Republicans count on the legislative elections for a comeback, so nothing might be decided before June. If they back Macron now, they might find it difficult to hold the party together, risking the same fate that befell the Socialists.

Our other stories

We also have stories on the European Commission climbing down on Italy; on handling the avalanche of residence applications in the UK; on the opposite attitudes in France and Germany towards the economy and the political system; on the problems with ESBies; on Pasok's crisis over leadership and coalitions; on MPS under trial; and on the Kafkaeque situation around the Greek bailout programme.

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Happy Easter

The Thursday briefing will be our last ordinary briefing before the Easter break. We will be publishing a special briefing with our thoughts on the French elections on Saturday. There will be no weekly review this Saturday. The next Daily Briefing will be on Wednesday, April 19.

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