Can France's Emmanuel Macron Keep Up His Momentum?

Emmanuel Macron
French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, London, April 17. Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout/Reuters

This piece was originally published on the Open Europe website.

Speaking at the Humboldt University in Berlin yesterday, French presidential candidate and former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, said:

"The truth is that we must collectively recognize that the euro is incomplete and cannot last without major reforms […] It has not provided Europe with a natural convergence between the different member states."

He went on to add:

"The status quo is synonymous, in ten years' time, with the dismantling of the euro.

"The dysfunctioning of the euro is of good use to Germany, I have to say…The euro is a weak Deutsche Mark."

This is not the first time that Macron has warned the single currency is going to collapse absent substantial reforms. However, his speech during a two-day visit to Germany to bolster his presidential campaign did break the mould, crediting him as a bold, reformist figure for France. Credit where credit is due. The statement above is one that few would expect incumbent President François Hollande to make— let alone in Berlin.

This comes as polls show Macron emerging as a serious contender in French presidential elections later this year. While it is still unclear whether he would qualify for the second round run-off, public support for his candidacy has grown faster than his opponents'.

For instance, the presidential nominee for the center-right and current favorite to win, François Fillon, has seen his share of the first-round vote fall to 26-28 percent, down 2-4 percentage points from surveys conducted shortly after he won the center-right primaries last November. Similarly, Front National leader Marine Le Pen, is currently polling around 22-24 percent, a slight fall on her figures from the end of last year. By contrast, Emmanuel Macron looks set to take between 18-24 percent of the first-round votes, up significantly from November forecasts of 15 percent.

However, standing as an independent candidate, Macron has no 'traditional' party machine behind him—his group "En Marche!" is a political movement. No French president has been elected without the backing of a fully-fledged political party in the history of the Fifth Republic. Even if Macron were to secure the presidency, questions loom as to which majority would support him in the French parliament. Remember: the legislative election for the renewal of the National Assembly, the lower chamber, are due in June. Would Macron be able to field candidates across the country?

Latest polling conducted by Ifop-Fiducial for the magazine Paris Match confirms Macron is indeed the one to watch. Crucially, his chances of qualifying for the second round of the presidential elections will rest on the results of the Socialist primaries, due to take place later this month. If a staunch left-wing candidate, such as former ministers Arnaud Montebourg or Benoît Hamon, emerges as the Socialist presidential nominee, Macron will benefit from the opportunity to claim the center-ground. If, however, former Prime Minister Manuel Valls were to win the primaries, he and Macron would most likely split the centrist vote in the first round of the presidential election.

Critically, if Macron does qualify for the second round, Ifop-Fiducial polling suggests he could emerge as the winner in all likely hypothetical run-offs. If he is faced with Le Pen, he is expected to claim a landslide victory of 65 percent. But even if he were to stand against Fillon, he could take a narrow victory of 52 percent to 48 percent.

While there remain significant political obstacles for him to overcome, it is certainly worth taking note of his increasing momentum.

Aarti Shankar is a Policy Analyst at Open Europe.