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Opinion

Reprieve or Reform in Europe?

By A. Michael Spence

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If a Macron victory is treated as an opportunity to pursue aggressive reforms targeted at boosting growth and employment, the French election may amount to an important turning point for Europe.

The first round of the French election turned out much as expected: the centrist Emmanuel Macron finished first, with 24% of the vote, rather narrowly beating the right-wing National Front’s Marine Le Pen, who won 21.3%. Barring a political accident of the type that befell the former frontrunner, conservative François Fillon, Macron will almost certainly win the second-round runoff against Le Pen on May 7. The European Union seems safe – for now.

With the pro-EU Macron seemingly headed toward the Élysée Palace – the establishment candidates on the right and the left who lost in the first round have already endorsed him – the immediate threat to the EU and the eurozone seems to have subsided. But this is no time for complacency. Unless Europe addresses flaws in growth patterns and pursues urgent reforms, the longer-term risks to its survival will almost certainly continue to mount.

And, as has often been noted, the French election, like other key votes over the past year, represents a rejection of establishment political parties: the Republicans’ Fillon came in third, with about 20% of the vote, and the Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon finished fifth, with less than 6.5%. Meanwhile, the left-wing Euroskeptic Jean-Luc Mélenchon won 19.5%, putting the total share of voters who chose candidates of non-traditional parties – Le Pen, Macron, and Mélenchon – at nearly 65%.

Read the full article as published in Project Syndicate.

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A. Michael Spence is a William R. Berkley Professor in Economics & Business.