In France, all eyes are on a dapper former banker who has never held public office as the country heads into the second round of voting on May 7 in the French presidential elections. Thirty-nine years old, with a face that looks a decade younger, Emmanuel Macron has emerged as France's last, best, and perhaps only chance of staving off far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
That France finds itself in this position — hoping for a complete novice to win and cringing at the consequences if he should falter — has rattled the French political establishment, and Europe.
He has already emerged victorious in round one, held April 23, pulling 23.7 percent of the vote from the other ten candidates and edging out Le Pen, who came in second.
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That's a shocking spot for a man who has no established political party, has never run for office, and most recently served in the beleaguered Socialist Party government of François Hollande, a president so unpopular he didn't even attempt to run again. Macron broke with the socialists last August and launched a bid for the presidency. Initially seen as an unlikely upstart, he spent the spring steadily climbing the polls as other candidates are brought down by corruption charges and political infighting.
Just before leaving Hollande's government, Macron created his own center-left nascent political party, which now backs his candidacy. It's called "En Marche!" (translated as "On the move!" or "Forward!"). Thousands have signed up online in support.
In any other election year, that sort of outsider third-party upstart campaign might have amounted to little more than a notable political peculiarity, not a winning bid. But then a corruption scandal ensnared the race's more likely candidate, François Fillon of the conservative Republican Party — who, nevertheless, refused to drop out. Fillon is charged with having paid his wife, Penelope, and family members a million euros for work they did not do. He denies the allegation, naturally.
Meanwhile, on the left, intraparty squabbles in the Socialist Party left it with a relatively unknown brand new candidate — Benoît Hamon — rather than Hollande, the incumbent president. Hamon took a dismal 6.2 percent of the vote on Sunday — undermined by both popular dismay at the current socialist regime and a rising challenge from the far left in the form of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who managed over 19 percent in the first round. Mélenchon is a far-left populist who began to surge in popularity in just the past few weeks on the backs of an anti-globalization platform calling for raising taxes, pulling out of trade deals, and reducing the workweek further.
With all the usual players in France's political game cast aside, Macron suddenly looked very presidential indeed.
And so, untried or not, many French are now counting on him to hold off the ascension of the populist, anti-globalization, anti–European Union candidate Marine Le Pen of the Front National. And, after election results came in Sunday, both Fillon and Hamon immediately called for the French electorate to back Macron against the far right.
Indeed, given Le Pen's campaign promises to pull France out of the EU and the common currency (or at the very least try), it isn't an exaggeration to say that it's more than France's future that is riding on the fate of Emmanuel Macron. The future of the EU itself is as well.