BOGOTÁ — Emmanuel Macron's victory in the French presidential elections stands as a big red Stop sign to a populist trends around the world. More than that, it is a reaffirmation that the liberal democratic state remains pertinent and viable even in the face of the discrepancies that globalization has inevitably produced. After the victories of Brexit and Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen's victory would have sealed the fate of the European Union and meant a worldwide return to protectionism.
The 2008 economic crisis did not show up "alone." It was accompanied by a deterioration, practically the world over, of governments' ability to connect with citizens, as shown in the eruption of various anti-system populist movements and a spreading of mass dissatisfaction with the political order and democracy. Furthermore, the inability of the establishment to satisfy the demands of those hurt by globalization, and a string of corruption scandals revealed across many countries, were accelerated by the network effects of the Internet and mass media culture.
Macron managed in a stark debate last week to unmask his rival
But ideology has grown hard to analyze: the candidates of the new Right are as protectionist as those of the old Left. Amid Hillary Clinton's defeat in the United States, and spreading fiscal crises and the crumbling welfare state, no one until Macron had deemed it necessary to explain the contradictions between their promises to restore lost jobs in prosperous states and the realities of globalization. They were not saying how they would "order" changes within the global chains of production, to raise prices and lower wages and costs, or who would pay the price of abandoning the principles of specialization or comparative advantage.
The Macron phenomenon is, among other things, democracy's counterpunch to these new forms of doing politics based on winning voters' support by hook or by crook — using alternative truths and post-facts if need be — and failing that just lying, as I pointed out in a column in January. Macron managed in a stark debate last week to unmask his rival before millions of French viewers. Her project "thrives on fear and lies," he told her, highlighting the strategy that yielded results in the United Kingdom and the United States (Russian meddling, the FBI etc..) and to which Madame Le Pen resorted to the very end, hacking and all.
The Macron coalition, backed by both Right and Left, can also provide a very specific boost to the beleaguered European Union. It represents a proposal to govern away from the extremes, an inclusive model that promotes the private sector and economic freedom without discarding the state's role in limiting inequalities and promoting social progress. Macron's victory begins to move toward resolving some evident dysfunctionalities of the political order in light of globalization, though clearly further adjustment will also prove necessary.
Here in Colombia, Macron's victory will not have palpable effects in the short term, nor will it influence the presidential elections scheduled for 2018. For perhaps our most pressing electoral issue, the peace process with FARC rebels, one suspects that those who celebrated Trump's victory, will not be throwing a party for Macron.
So is this a return to democratic liberalism? Yes, at least in France, though on the global level we can expect the continuation of the tug-of-war between those trying to profit from the clash of democracy and globalization and those who insist on maintaining the established regime and playing by its rules.
The EU will, while it lasts, continue to be a weighty player in world affairs, assuring plurality and balancing the roles and political and economic decisions of the United States, Russia and China, in a context of drastic volatility in the world order.
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