France’s Macron looks to past post-win, gears up for future

France's Macron looks to past post-win, gears up for future

PARIS — French President-elect Emmanuel Macron laid the groundwork Monday for his transition to power, announcing a visit to Germany and a name change for his political movement and appearing with his predecessor at a solemn World War II commemoration.

Macron handily defeated far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s presidential runoff, and now must pull together a majority of lawmakers in the mid-June legislative election.

The task, though, may prove tricky for a president who had never run for a political office before and for his fledgling political movement La Republique En Marche (Republic On the Move). Macron is the first president of modern France elected as an independent.

Macron’s party, previously known as a movement called simply En Marche, is preparing a list of candidates for next month’s parliamentary election. Macron has promised that half of those candidates will be new to elected politics, as he was before his victory on Sunday.

Many voters who had supported other candidates in the election’s first round reluctantly cast runoff ballots for Macron only to prevent Le Pen from entering the Elysee Palace. His rivals now will be motivated to keep Macron from making further gains during the two-round parliamentary election. All 577 seats in the National Assembly are up for grabs.

Macron has said he was aiming to secure an absolute majority in the lower chamber through the June 11 and 18 elections. If he does, he would be able to pick the candidate of his choice to lead the government as prime minister.

But if another party wins a majority, the new president could be pressured to choose a prime minister from that party, a situation the French call “cohabitation.” The last time France had “cohabitation” was during in 1997-2002 under President Jacques Chirac, who described the setup as a state of “paralysis.”

If Macron’s party performs poorly, he also could be forced to form a coalition government, a regular occurrence in many European countries but far less common in France. In a poll, 59 per cent of Macron voters said they supported him primarily to keep Le Pen from becoming president.

Le Pen says she will lead the opposition to Macron.

Macron won the presidency with 66 per cent of the votes cast for a candidate, but the election also had a high number of blank or spoiled votes and an unusually low turnout.

Monday was a French national holiday marking decades of peace in Western Europe, something Macron made a cornerstone of his campaign against Le Pen’s brand of nationalist populism. Macron joined President Francois Hollande in a commemoration of the formal German defeat in World War II.

It was the first time the men had appeared in public together since Macron resigned in August 2016 as Hollande’s economy minister to run for president — a decision that was received coldly by the French leader at the time.

On Monday, though, Hollande gripped Macron’s arm before the two men walked side by side and then announced the transfer of power would take place on Sunday.

Le Pen had called for France to leave the 28-nation European Union and drop the shared euro currency in favour of reinstating the French franc.

After her decisive loss, the National Front also geared up for a name change — if not a makeover of its ideas. In interviews Monday, National Front officials said the party founded by her father would get a new name to try and draw in a broader spectrum of supporters.

“The National Front is a tool that will evolve to be more efficient, bring even more people together after the number of voters we reached last night. And so we have an immense responsibility vis-a-vis the French people, who trust us,” said Nicolas Bay, the party’s secretary-general.

Sylvie Goulard, a French deputy to the European Parliament, said Macron would make Berlin his first official visit, with perhaps a stop to see French troops stationed abroad as well.

Leaders in Germany and Britain praised Macron’s victory, but viewed it through their own electoral challenges.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed his win, but appeared cautious about proposals to support his economic plans either by relaxing European spending rules or with a dedicated stimulus fund.

“German support can’t replace French policies,” she said.

In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May said Macron’s election makes it even more important for British voters to back her Conservatives and strengthen Britain’s hand in EU exit talks.

May has called an early election for June 8, arguing that her Conservatives need a bigger majority in order to stand firm against — and strike deals with — the EU.

On the financial front, European stock markets edged down in early trading as investors had been widely expecting Macron’s victory.

Though Macron’s victory is considered positive for the region’s economy and the euro currency, stocks had risen strongly in the previous two weeks on expectations of his win.

France’s CAC 40 index, which last week touched the highest level since early 2008, slipped 1 per cent on Monday. The euro, which had risen Sunday night to a six-month high against the dollar, edged back down 0.5 per cent to $1.0946.

___

Helena Alves, Thomas Adamson, Philippe Sotto in Paris and Carlo Piovano in London contributed.

Sylvie Corbet And Lori Hinnant, The Associated Press

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