French students will need new textbooks: this is probably the only predictable outcome of the 2017 French presidential election as of now. 7 May 2017 will be a historic date and future French students will probably learn it by heart. However, what, or rather who, they will have to associate it to is still uncertain. The rise of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National, the unexpected resurgence of “Les Républicains” leader François Fillon, a candidate of the political establishment, or Emmanuel Macron, a potentially “non-partisan” French president—the number of topics for potential future exam questions is wide.
But as a hopeful citizen of France, I am confident that the next editions of textbooks on French history will include a chapter entitled: “Emmanuel Macron, President”.
Okay, okay, I can already hear complaints: “Why are you so hopeful that a former banker who was involved in the Hollande government and is backed by a movement neither left-wing nor right-wing will be the next president? Do you not think that he is just another ambitious man trying to lure you into his project simply to gain power, like all the others? And do you not think his relationship with this older woman Brigitte Trogneux is a bit odd?” (No! Seriously, it is 2017, people, when will this constant shaming stop?).
I understand all these concerns (okay, minus the one about his wife). Still, I hope he will become the next French president.
A movement created and moulded by the people
Macron is important for French democracy, and, I dare say, for democracy in general. Yes, I mean it! I could blabber on and on about how well thought out his programme is and how, for instance, his love for Europe is extremely inspiring, but I will just assume you know all of this already. Today, I’d rather tell you about the form and not the content of his project: I want to tell you about “En Marche!”, a breath of fresh air in today’s crumbling democracy.
You probably hear it every week, whether reading an article in the tube or at work: “democracy is dying”. At least that is what we are told. With Donald Trump in the United States, Brexit, Putin, and many (many…) more examples, it might be easy or even obvious to come to this conclusion. Many people argue a triumph of Marine Le Pen in the Hexagon would simply fit into this political climate. If the Front National leader were to reach office, the European Union, immigration in France and our own values would face immediate risk.
However, what people tend to forget is that while we mostly talk of Marine Le Pen and her Front National, a new movement backing the relatively young Macron (he is only 39), a fresh face on the political landscape, has formed and proves every day that democracy still exists. In May 2016, the former Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs of the Hollande government started the movement “La Grande Marche” after leaving the government. He wanted something new. Macron campaigned without any current source of income, unlike all other candidates. He travelled around France to talk to the people directly, asking them what they wanted politicians to talk about, what their fears were, and what they appreciated or hated about the French system. Soon, “En Marche!” was founded, the new talk of the town, a movement where anyone or rather everyone is welcome. Led by a few paid workers along with an ever-growing number of volunteers, “En Marche!” organised committees all around France and brought important subjects directly to the people to hear their opinion and shape Macron’s political agenda. Membership fees? None – all of this is free; democracy comes without a price tag.
“En Marche!” is in constant dialogue with its participants, asking them closed questions to establish statistics and open questions to hear their thoughts in detail. It encourages feedback of any kind. This is not just an apprentice piece in democratic participation—Macron as a candidate heavily relies on all members and volunteers, who decide to take some time of their day to lead committees, talk to people in the streets, contribute to research or organise his meetings. His relationship with us members (There, I said it. I’m involved) is one of co-dependency: we share his vision and want him to win the election, while he needs us to actively contribute to his programme and convince those around us.
Who, again, said democracy is dead? It is alive!
En Marche, an eclectic movement
Admittedly, a year ago even I would not have thought that such an innovative movement could emerge on the political scene of my home country. I would not have thought that more than 200,000 French people from diverse political and social backgrounds would come together to support and reinvent democracy. Certainly not I (but seriously: who?) would have thought that one man could bring together political figures of the Socialist party with the Republicans and Centrists. Who would have thought that at a time where we claim that young people don’t care about politics, Jeunes avec Macron (JAM), the movement’s youth organisation, has more than 24,000 supporters on Facebook? And who would have thought that someone like me, an 18-year-old movie buff, would decide to get so involved in a political movement? The answer is no one, because most people thought democracy was dead. But “En Marche!”shows that these people were wrong. It also brings back De Gaulle’s own vision of the role of president, someone answering to “something common to all French people – above all parties – that are their common interests, their national interests”.
Does this mean that I want everyone to support Macron? Well, it kind of does. But most of all it means that you must drown the death songs of democracy! Don’t listen to the people who tell you that democracy is dead.
Therefore, if you are French, get involved, read the different candidates’ manifestos, understand what they stand for and decide whom you would like to see govern and represent your country during the next five years: in the end, it is really up to you. If you are not French, observe the election and let the results inspire you, let them make you believe in your importance as a citizen and how crucial your voice and opinions are. Democracy is an ideal and is never a given, so let’s continue fighting for it!