Editorial: French President-elect Macron must move quickly to address nation’s divisions

Ever since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU), the EU has lived in fear of its future. But France has now decided to remain a part of it. The results of the French presidential election come as a huge relief to the international community.

In the runoff, Emmanuel Macron, the pro-EU centrist candidate who served as economy minister, defeated Marine Le Pen, the candidate from the far-right National Front party, which has called for France to withdraw from the EU. The results of this election will now have an important influence on the actions of political parties in other nations that are vital to the life of the EU.

The EU, which has been mainly led by France and Germany, has been able to unify to the point of using a common currency. Only the economic benefits tend to be highlighted, but this outcome was realized because of the stability of the region. These two nations, which had waged war on one another several times since the late 19th century, eventually joined together to establish a peaceful Europe. What they have achieved is of great significance and should not be forgotten or ignored.

Still, Ms. Le Pen’s tally was over 10 million votes, almost double the 5.5 million votes that her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the first leader of the National Front Party, received in the 2002 presidential election runoff. It has been suggested that this is because the “French first,” “protectionism,” and “anti-immigrant” policies of the party have permeated a large part of French society. Driving this phenomenon is the fact that the pace of business recovery and job growth has been slower than expected, resulting in the widening of already existing divisions within French society. In addition, the French people’s strong discontent with the EU’s policy of accepting a large number of immigrants and refugees, along with the keen anxiety caused by the rising number of terror attacks since 2015, have further divided the nation. The French government now needs to give this situation their serious attention.

In various parts of the world, including France, there has been a decline of the middle class, and people have become more easily swayed by extreme views on both the right and left. If such conditions persist, uniting the French nation will be difficult. To avoid even wider divisions, the diversity of open societies must be maintained and swift efforts are needed to bridge these differences. While this could be seen as a detour, creating a stable society is the basis for stronger confidence in the EU.

Mr. Macron, the 39-year-old president-elect, will become France’s youngest-ever president. He was a former investment banker and served as economy minister under President Francois Hollande between 2014 and 2016. He had never previously run for office and has no political experience as an elected official. Thus, his administrative ability remains uncertain.

In June, a parliamentary election in France’s Lower House will take place. Can Mr. Macron, who leads the bipartisan citizens’ movement “En Marche” (“On the Move”), build a majority of support in parliament? No matter how appealing his policies may be, they won’t be realized if he is unable to move them forward under his leadership.

Both candidates of France’s two mainstream parties, the center-right Republican Party and left-wing Socialist Party, which have taken turns producing France’s presidents since 1959, failed to reach the runoff. This fact is an indication of the public’s mistrust of the established political parties. The French parliament will now inevitably engage in more in-depth discussions on the new president’s policies, such as handling immigration and spreading the significance of the EU. Transforming Mr. Macron’s pledges into effective policies and implementing these ideas successfully can lead to a recovery of the public’s trust in politics.

From the perspective of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, the French president’s nuclear-related policies are of great concern. The international community is now moving toward the goal of establishing a treaty that would ban nuclear weapons. In this situation, how significant is it that France continue to maintain a nuclear arsenal? It is hoped that France will realize that this is a new opportunity to overhaul its nuclear policy, with nuclear abolition in mind, without feeling bound by the past.

With regard to nuclear energy, Mr. Macron has expressed a willingness to reduce the share of nuclear energy in the total energy scheme from the current figure of 75% or so to 50% by 2025. Since France depends more heavily on nuclear energy than Japan, its decision to reduce the role of nuclear power will strongly influence the global trend in energy production. It is hoped that Mr. Macron’s energy policy will be steadily implemented.

(Originally published on May 9, 2017)